Author Archive

A “Both/And” Approach to CTE and VAPA

October 21, 2010

By Mark Slavin, Vice President of Education
Music Center: Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County and
Board Chair, California Alliance for Arts Education

The California Alliance for Arts Education was very pleased to see the Governor veto AB 2446 (Furutani). This measure would have watered-down California’s already weak high school graduation requirements by allowing students to take a career technical education course, in lieu of a course in the arts or foreign language. The battle over this legislation is part of an ongoing debate about the role and purpose of public high schools. Specifically, what is the proper balance between preparing students for college and providing tangible employment skills to help students gain jobs right out of high school? Or is this a false choice? Can we imagine high schools in which every course engages kids in project-based learning, real world applications, and the development of tangible skills for the workplace?

It was unfortunate that the battle over AB 2446 placed advocates for arts education and advocates for career and technical education in opposing camps. In fact, many of us want the same thing – high schools that offer diverse options for students to find their passion and explore specific career paths. Arts advocates often cite testimonials from young people stating their arts course was the only reason they came to school every day. Why not expand our vision to imagine high schools that offer BOTH foundational courses in the arts AND opportunities to deepen career and technical skills?

Advocates for arts education have worked hard to place the arts as part of the core academic courses required for admission California’s public colleges and universities. The approved courses offer students much more than art-making and performance skills. Consistent with the Visual and Performing Arts Framework, courses are expected to help students analyze and make critical judgments about works of art. Students are also expected to study historical and cultural context and to make connections to other subject areas and career opportunities.

Having achieved this status in the core curriculum, many advocates for arts education are protective of these hard-fought gains. Accordingly, we want to ensure the arts retain academic rigor and are taught by highly-qualified teachers. If these values are lost, we fear arts education could be further marginalized and become more vulnerable to cuts. But in defending our vision of “quality” arts education, are we closing the door to exciting new partnerships with career and technical education? In the rush to point out the limitations of a course taught by an industry professional lacking a teaching credential, are we denying students powerful learning opportunities?

Advocates for arts education often assert the arts are essential to prepare students for California’s creative economy. We cite data about the scope of the economic impact from the entertainment industry, the performing arts, museums, video game design, architecture, and fashion design, to name a few of the important job sectors. In our passion to defend “standards-based arts education,” let us not close the door to other arts learning opportunities with a direct link to careers. When a student becomes inspired by an introductory theatre course, we should applaud their desire to take a course in set design taught by a working professional. When a student finds their passion in a visual art course, who would be against taking another course from a working graphic designer?

Before we rush in to another “us against them” battle in Sacramento, I am hoping we can explore new alliances and common cause with advocates for career technical education. Together let us try to expand, not narrow, the range of options open to students in our high schools.

Editor’s Note: The California Alliance has recently published a white paper that explores the overlapping goals and requirements of CTE and VAPA studies, and advocates for a “Both/And” approach. Click here to read the paper.

It’s Time for a Shared Delivery Model for the Arts

October 20, 2009

California’s visual and performing arts content standards are very ambitious and suggest the need for more instruction in the arts than any one teacher could provide.  In light of the scope and depth of these standards and the very strained resources in our schools, it seems time to embrace a vision for a “shared delivery model” in which classroom teachers, arts specialists, and community arts resources collaborate and coordinate their efforts so that kids gain access to a truly comprehensive program.  If we all work together in a coordinated fashion, the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts.  In a fragmented or competitive scenario, students lose.

Wearing my hat as someone who provides arts programs to schools in a non-profit arts organization, I want to suggest the arts community needs to let go of some past paradigms if the vision of a true shared delivery model is to be realized.  Specifically, we have two pieces of worn baggage we need to toss in the dumpster: the “arts as charity” model and the “arts organization as lone ranger” model.

The “arts as charity” model has dominated the world view of many arts organizations at least since 1978, when Proposition 13 resulted in major cuts to school arts programs.  In this model, each fundraising appeal letter begins with this statement – “we all know there are no arts programs in our public schools.  But thanks to your gift, at least X children will have exposure to the arts.”  While big-hearted, this approach is counter-productive, If not harmful , to the cause of systemic arts education for all kids.  It is harmful because it reinforces the bias of many educators that arts programs do not have a legitimate claim on school budgets.  It is also harmful in that it may reinforce the view among donors and education leaders that we can never expect a reinvestment from schools and districts that would place the arts in the core curriculum for all students, not just the lucky few in a grant-funded charitable program.

The second piece of luggage we need to discard is the “lone ranger” model, where each arts organizations presents its’ work in isolation, and suggests or implies it has the magical ability to transform a school all by itself.  The fact is that very few, if any, arts organizations have the capacity to achieve a year-long, sequential instructional program for an entire school in music, dance, theatre, and visual arts.  In most cases, an arts organization has a specialty and expertise that can address one or a few pieces of a very large arts education puzzle. One group might provide matinee performances for school field trips. Another may send a teaching artist to lead a 14 week dance residency in four classrooms.  A third may provide an introductory workshop for teachers tied to the collection in a museum.  Yet for fundraising purposes, or perhaps our own ego, we communicate our work in isolation.  We imply we are the only resource available to a school and promise to achieve transformative results all by ourselves.  Sadly, this very isolation and fragmentation means that our individual efforts are not achieving a critical mass or impact.  Imagine what could be possible, if several arts organizations worked in concert to collaborate with a single school to leverage all their resources for a much larger result.

While we know budgets are tight and finances can become very competitive, the fact is that California schools need more assistance and support than could ever be provided by the combined efforts of every existing non-profit arts agency in the state.  So the good news is that there is more than enough “need” to go around.  So rather than fight for isolated crumbs and programmatic fragments, imagine the difference we could make if we worked together in a collaborative partnership that linked arts resources, arts specialist teachers, and classroom teachers.  Imagine the arts learning that could be provided if we worked in a true shared delivery model.