Posts Tagged ‘arts’

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.

AB 2446 Limits Access to Arts Education

April 7, 2010

Testimony given by Joe Landon, Alliance Policy Director, before the Education Committee hearing on AB 2446

I speak today on behalf of the California Alliance for Arts Education, a statewide coalition of parents, teachers, business and community leaders, arts organizations and concerned citizens, committed to ensuring that arts education is a core component of a quality education that every student in our state should receive.

In my experience as Policy Director, I have learned that arts education has no enemies. Everyone you talk to willingly expresses their support for the arts, tells stories of how it has impacted their lives or the lives of their children or friends. Clearly, the intent of this bill and its author is not to do harm to arts learning, but to provide greater access to career technical education.

No one questions that arts education cultivates creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking—all touted as hallmark skills for success in the 21st-century workforce, or that the arts promote better questioning skills, more-focused periods of intense concentration, and greater understanding of problems that have multiple answers – all skills which promote success across all subject areas.

No one doubts that the arts reach out to the very students who might be most likely to drop out because they feel no connection to their education.

And no one wants students to go through their entire high school education without having to take one course in the arts or foreign language. But that’s what this bill would do.

We oppose this bill because it pits one subject area against another, because it creates access for career tech by undermining access for arts education as part of the core education that every student should be exposed to. At a time when arts education programs are being cut in districts throughout the state, it sends the message that though we care about the arts, we are willing to push arts education a little more to the side, a little harder for students to get to, a little less part of a well rounded education.

We reject the notion of the relation between arts education and career tech as either/or, and that’s what this bill does. We support and work closely with Career Technical Education’s Arts, Media and Entertainment pathway, providing a blueprint for preparation for students wishing to pursue arts related careers.

We support the Committee’s analysis of the bill, suggesting that the committee consider a more comprehensive review and revision of the high school graduation requirements, to ensure that graduates are embarking on the next stage of their lives with the skills they need to qualify for either postsecondary school education or family-wage career paths.

Last year, when Assemblyman Furutani introduced a similar bill, we made these same arguments. Back then, it all seemed to make sense and he amended the bill so that it would do no harm to arts education. Clearly, these are difficult times, and people can change their minds and while it’s clear that he has, what won’t change is the impact of this bill.

For the sake of our state, our future work force, and our students’ futures, we cannot afford to take short cuts that will ultimately lead our state into even bigger deficits in terms of financial as well as human capital and resources.

We urge a ‘no’ vote on AB 2446.

Articulating the Value of Arts Education to Corporate Funders

March 4, 2010

By Jason Pugatch, Associate Director, Young Storytellers Foundation

It’s one of the great anomalies of our society that the arts are both valued and underfunded; both praised and looked upon as a frivolity.  A Harris Poll found that 93% of Americans find arts education to be a vital part of a well-rounded education. A visit to the opera or a museum opening continues to carry social caché.

Yet, when it comes to putting corporate money where the mouth is, many are unwilling to fund something as seemingly nebulous as the arts. One of the reasons for this is that quantifying the arts, and program impact isn’t easily summed up in an end-of-year-spreadsheet. How do you put a number on growth of self-expression, confidence and an increase in creative thinking?

You don’t. And as a non-profit vying for corporate funding in the arts, this can feel like an extreme disadvantage. So, it is our job to become “values” advocates as well as arts educators. One of the best means of pursuing this line of advocacy is through volunteerism, which offers a direct connection between arts education and corporate resources.

At the Young Storytellers Foundation, we’ve taken an immersion approach to funding. Because we’re a volunteer organization, we begin any conversation with potential corporate funders by asking them to get involved with our students in a tangible way – a boots on the ground approach, if you will.  It’s very easy to deny a written program proposal request; it’s difficult to deny the smile on a child’s face when he or she has created something unique—and with their help, no less. “Art,” and the value it holds, becomes less of an amorphous concept, it’s a student with a name and a face; “education” is a specific school in an impoverished urban neighborhood. Turn a corporation’s employees into advocates for your organization, with experiences to match, and funding becomes a lot easier to find.

This is partly good salesmanship: the first step in car buying is always the test drive. It is also a way of insuring the longevity of your funding relationships. In a fickle funding universe, employee involvement can make or break a request for dollars.

Thankfully, the next generation of business men and women seem to be getting the message on the value of creative thought when it comes to succeeding in their own jobs. A recent New York Times article (MultiCultural Critical Theory. At B School? Jan. 9 2010) explored the newest theory being explored by Business Schools: students need to think “creatively every bit as much as they needed to learn finance or accounting.” Storytelling 101 as a Harvard MBA requirement? Might not be as far off as you think.

The Current State of Arts Education in California

September 22, 2009

By Laurie T. Schell, Executive Director

Welcome to our new blog!  In the coming months, we look forward to bringing you posts from a wide variety of thinkers engaged with the future of arts education in California.

Recently, the Alliance undertook an informal survey of the 30 largest school districts in California to get a temperature read on how things are going. Here are two observations that stand out in reviewing the research:

If you don’t use it, you lose it. The most common story we heard from across California has to do with the demise of the unused one-time and ongoing Arts and Music Block Grant funds (resulting from the historic grant made in 2006). The irony is that many districts were trying to do the right thing— holding the money in order to think and plan strategically for greater impact over several years. And guess what? The unspent funds are largely gone now – swept into the general fund as soon as a change in state policy allowed.

We heard harrowing stories of districts making painful decisions about how to rob Peter to pay Paul, and we understand the desperate straits that many districts find themselves in. But what can we learn from the fate of that historic grant?

It’s a commonplace of budgeting that if you don’t use designated funds, you’re likely to lose them. That means having a strategic plan in place before the money arrives and strong momentum in the delivery of quality arts instruction already underway.  Having a plan is not a panacea, but it has proven a successful tactic for districts who make a commitment both to the plan and its implementation. Some day we’ll emerge from these dark days of the economic crisis. And when we do, districts that have done their planning work ahead of the curve will stand to benefit the most. So whether we’re talking about future federal funding, or just the return of better days and the rise in tide that lifts all boats, it’s important to continue planning for improved capacity in arts education.

Our message has made a difference. The second finding from the survey reveals a silver lining. In many cases, several of the districts we spoke with reported their administrators and school board officials valued the arts and took positions to protect arts programs. They also reported arts education advocates from the community were present and vocal at school board meetings. This hasn’t always been the case. These anecdotes suggest that advocates have been very effective in raising the level of awareness about the value of arts education for every child.

There is no doubt that we’ve made progress—historic funding in 2006, pockets of community activists making the case, better understanding of what quality arts programs look like, and greater awareness among school board and administrators. The problem, however, is that the restoration of the arts in each of the 1,000 California districts is tenuous and can only be sustained if each of us takes responsibility to act.  Without letting up on the message about why the arts matter (the emotional message), we must also hammer away at the need to fund and prioritize the arts in the same way as other core subject areas (the political message), and position the arts as an essential component of a complete education for every child (the BIG message).

We need to get busy as advocates, making sure that our state and local policymakers and education decisionmakers do three things, with regard to the visual and performing arts.

Prioritize the arts – dance, music, theatre, visual arts – as a core subject area.

Fund arts education – teachers, curriculum, instructional materials, professional development – in an ongoing, sustainable way.

Position the arts as essential to a complete education, thereby protecting them from funding raids in lean years.

Those three principles should guide every action we take as advocates.

And that leads me back to this blog. In the coming months, we’ll investigate many different points of view related to the political work ahead of us. We’ll ask knowledgeable experts to write about ways that we can prioritize, fund and position the arts in California schools. I hope you’ll be part of that conversation. It promises to be dynamic, diverse and pertinent.

If you don’t already, please subscribe to our twice-monthly newsletter, ArtsEdMail. Each issue will pose a question, and link to this blog, where we hope to engender and open conversation in response.

I look forward to hearing from you!