Posts Tagged ‘California arts’

Celebrate Arts Education Month (Here’s how)

March 10, 2011

Assembly Concurrent Resolution 25 (Campos) declares “March 2011 to be Arts Education Month and encourage[s] all elected officials to participate with their educational communities in celebrating the arts.”

There’s no better way to share the power of arts education with elected officials than by inviting them to experience firsthand the creativity, innovation and joy that happen in arts classrooms. The Alliance’s Arts Learning in Action Toolkit provides a step-by-step online guide for planning a visit for a local school board member, mayor, city council, county board of education or county supervisors.

Finding the Words for Duke Ellington

We spoke to award-winning teacher Genein Letford and she shared a lesson that brings to life the tenets of ACR 25 with ”a visual and performing arts curriculum [that] addresses and develops ways of thinking, questioning, expression.”

Once a third grade general education teacher, Letford is in charge of the music program at NEW Academy Canoga Park. “My goal has been to develop a program that teaches music standards, theory and instrumentation while successfully connecting to other disciplines for whole child learning.”

Her lesson on Duke Ellington brings jazz, improvisation and African American history to life. It charts Duke’s rise from piano player in pool halls to leader of an orchestra headlining at Carnegie Hall, where he introduced Black, Brown and Beige, a suite that celebrated the “the triumphs of black people, from the days of slavery to the years of the civil rights struggle.”

Letford’s lesson is also an exploration of language. “I use Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra for its wonderful similes to convey the color tones of the instruments and the mood of the music. Along with developing listening skills (students identify instruments and instrument families), the students pay attention to how the authors use language to describe the music. Then the students practice writing similes of their own to describe the music.”

Art isn’t Just for Art Classes Anymore

You don’t have to be an art teacher to celebrate the power of arts learning this month. Assemblywoman Campos’ resolution affirms that a “visual and performing arts curriculum addresses and develops ways of thinking, questioning, expression, and learning that complement learning in other core subjects.” There is a growing interest in cross-curricular learning. The Kennedy Center defines arts integration as:

“An approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area meeting objectives in both.”

Last week, we witnessed an exciting example at the Armory for the Arts in Pasadena, when they shared findings from their new curriculum, which integrates visual art and math. The curriculum develops the connections between math and art focusing on math standards, providing visual art lessons and standards-based instruction to complement and enhance the math learning. Assessments after one semester show a sharp rise in post-test skills, as well as improved scores on standardized tests. Stay tuned for more information about this exciting initiative.

Let the Celebrations Begin

Help us spread the word about Arts Education Month, share our new video, Start a Conversation About the Arts. It links to our Arts Learning in Action toolkit and makes a persuasive case (complete with music from Ozomatli) for advocates to reach out to elected officials.

Genein Letford is an elementary music teacher from Canoga Park and believes that every child, despite socioeconomic status, deserves a quality education that includes the arts. Mrs. Letford began her teaching career as a third grade teacher of low-income English language learners. It was there she discovered the power of using music to help teach vocabulary and academic concepts to her students.

Mrs. Letford is now the music director at the same elementary school and has created a dynamic award winning music curriculum that not only teaches music standards but also incorporates corresponding math, science, language arts and social studies concepts. In 2009, Letford began the Music For All: Instrument Scholarship Fund, which awarded low-income students with instruments for their ongoing music education. Early last year, Letford was a finalist for the Bravo Arts Educator Award and was just named the 2010 Great American Teacher of the Year. Mrs. Letford received her bachelor degree from UCLA and recently completed her master thesis, Integration With Integrity: The Importance of Keeping Music in the Elementary Classroom at California State University, Northridge. She has done numerous professional presentations on this topic and remains focused on bringing arts education to underserved communities.

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Warning for schools ahead

January 27, 2011

This week, as staff from the California Alliance met with forty new legislators in Sacramento, the halls of the Capitol had an ominous air.

When Governor Jerry Brown was sworn into office on January 3rd, California was already in a declared state of fiscal emergency. Within weeks of taking office, Brown declared a new state of fiscal emergency and released a 2011-2012 state budget calling for $12.5 billion in cuts. Few could be surprised by these grim realities. As Brown, said at the press conference releasing this budget,

“For 10 years, we’ve had budget gimmicks and tricks that pushed us deep into debt. We must now return California to fiscal responsibility and get our state on the road to economic recovery and job growth.”

K-12 grade education was the one area spared from cuts. Brown’s budget proposes keeping education at current, admittedly low funding levels. But even this is not a sure thing.

Continued funding for education depends on an extension of current personal income and sales taxes, as well as the Vehicle License Fee rate, for five years that must be approved by voters in an election this June. Without this revenue, officials say there will be 31% funding cuts across the board, including education.

Already, officials are painting a grim picture of the inevitable cuts in store for education, if voters do not pass the ballot measure. In a recent speech, State Treasurer Bill Lockyer said,

“Unless voters agree to the extension of temporary car, income and sales taxes, the state would be so short of money that it might have to whack more than six weeks off the K-12 school year.”

That’s just one scenario. Increasing class size, cutting custodial staff and cutting or eliminating arts education programs altogether are other likely options if Brown’s ballot measure does not pass.

Despite the serious work ahead, the Alliance staff was encouraged by their meetings with new legislators. An impressive number of representatives were well informed about the cognitive, social and potential workforce benefits of arts education. All are committed to providing California children with a quality education. And most would agree (and we’ll keep working on the others!) that the arts must be a core component to a quality education.

Working with Elected Officials Parts 1 & 2

November 9, 2010

By Victoria Plettner-Saunders

Part 1 – What I Did on My Summer Vacation, or the Practical Application of Arts Education Advocacy

My name is Victoria Plettner-Saunders and I am one of the founders of the San Diego Alliance for Arts Education, a local advocacy network initiated by the California Alliance for Arts Education. While our formal alliance launch was in May of 2010, we actually began to gain recognition for arts education advocacy with the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) in June 2009 when we successfully convinced the SDUSD School Board to remove the Visual and Performing Arts Department (VAPA) from a list of things to eliminate to save money. At that time, we were a consistent presence at school board meetings and our message was clear: a) we want to be in partnership with the district on arts education issues and b) “We aren’t going away.” Here’s what that meant in reality.

In May we officially launched the San Diego Alliance for Arts Education and invited the school board president Richard Barrera to talk to our invited guests about the status of arts education in the District. By July, I’m in his speed dial and he was calling for my help. The school board is voting on Tuesday to put forth a ballot measure for a parcel tax to create local revenues for the District’s budget, he says. He wants to know if we can help by coming down to speak in support of it. He explained what is now referred to as Prop. J. The funds will be distributed to each school on a per student basis and decisions about using the funds will be up to each school. However, they are to be used for student instruction only and not for administration or overhead. Wearing my advocacy hat, I asked him if there is specific language to ensure that visual and performing arts instruction can be a recipient of the funds. I am concerned about specific language for arts education because without it, principals could think that the funds can only be used for science, technology, English and mathematics instruction. He says he’ll make sure that arts education is included. I tell him that I will be there and I send out an email asking for others to come down in support as well.

At the meeting, I get up and make a presentation during which I remind them that “we aren’t going away.” This time I indicate that their prioritization of arts education is important to us and that we will support them in finding a way to continue funding it via the parcel tax. The presentation detailing what will happen if Prop. J doesn’t pass described the loss of athletics, increased class sizes; loss of GATE, and half day kindergarten, but nowhere is there any indication that arts education could be affected.

Afterwards, I asked Mr. Barrera why the presentation didn’t indicate that the arts will be victims of the budget ax. We both know that if the District doesn’t find new revenues, hard decisions will have to be made and we can’t expect to be “saved” while other equally as important budget items are lost. To which he replied, “To be honest with you Victoria, I think they’re scared to. Arts education advocates made so much noise last year when they put it on the elimination list.” I’d like to believe that’s true, but I’ve learned that their campaign managers have a different perspective on what polls well for these things and “arts programs” weren’t part of it. I don’t necessarily agree with them and it hasn’t stopped us from putting the word out there ourselves.

In August (so much for my summer work slow down) a group of us met with the Prop J. campaign manager to talk about how the arts community can help. You see, while they calculated that the loss of arts programs didn’t poll well as a campaign strategy, we know that arts supporters and parents do care and need to know the potential repercussions. In the end they recognized the importance of our work on behalf of Prop J and are giving us a page on the Prop J website that explains what will happen to arts education if it doesn’t pass.

And so for the rest of our summer “vacation” we strove to become the best team players we can be. We want to show the school board that the arts community cares about arts education and that we are willing to work for the greater good to help ensure its survival. Advocacy can often come down to relationships and leverage. Our strong show of support helps us to continue building a positive and productive relationship with the school board, which makes it harder for them to eliminate arts education in the coming budget decisions without communicating with us first. It is now September 7, summer is essentially over and my husband and I and other arts education advocates are gearing up to educate the arts community about Prop J and will start our first phone banking tonight. Election Day can’t come soon enough.

Editor’s Note: The San Diego Alliance for Arts Education participated in the California Alliance’s district election survey project, which surveyed local school board candidates about their views on arts education. The survey project is another way that advocates in San Diego are bringing the importance of arts education to decision-makers attention.

Part 2 – Serendipity, Advocacy and Your Local Farmer’s Market

Arts education advocacy doesn’t take a holiday just because the students do. On a warm summer afternoon in July, I received an email from Joe Landon, Policy Director for the California Alliance for Arts Education about State Assembly Bill 2446. In a nutshell, if enacted, AB 2446 would have undermined access to arts education courses by allowing students to substitute Career Technical Education courses for current requirements in visual and performing arts or foreign language.

The Alliance had worked diligently to help policymakers understand that although trying to boost graduation rates by making it easier for students to meet the requirements with CTEC credits makes sense, using it as a replacement for arts education is not the answer. Despite a ground swell of opposition from arts education advocates, it was moving from the Education Committee to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Joe’s email asked if we can get the San Diego folks together to share our concerns with Senator Christine Kehoe (who by the way has been very supportive of the local arts community since her days as a City Councilmember). She represents San Diego and she is also chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Moreover, we know that face to face contact with a constituent is one of the most powerful advocacy tools around. I email him back and say that I’ll look into it.

Strangely, the next thing I do is open another email from my weekly local farmers market. At the end of their newsletter telling me all the great local growers who will be there that afternoon, it says that Senator Christine Kehoe will be at the market at 4PM to talk to constituents about issues that are important to them.

AHA! How easy could this be?! I was planning to go to the market anyway. So I worked on my handout and brushed up on my understanding of the issues (did a little dress rehearsal) and headed up to the market with my handouts and my green market bag. I find the Senator at her booth and listen to someone else share his concerns and then it’s my turn. I tell her who I am, who I’m with and about AB 2446. She says that I’m the first constituent to talk to her directly about the bill and that while she doesn’t know anything about yet; she will take my concerns and my handouts to her staff meeting on Sunday and see what she can do.

By 4:30, I’m headed home with my tomatoes, handmade tamales, a bouquet of flowers, and a big dose of arts education advocacy in the bag. It was easier than I thought it would be, and it really felt quite good – as though I had taken this totally serendipitous moment and capitalized on the opportunity. I had no idea whether it would make a difference, but I knew I had an open window here and it would be foolish to close it. My advocacy advice here is: Look for seemly serendipitous opportunities to let your voice be heard and don’t ever give up. Not even during summer break.

Editor’s Note: On September 30, 2010, after months of advocacy work by the California Alliance and a statewide network of arts education advocates, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed AB2446 (Furutani), citing cost as a primary reason for the veto. Arts education advocates achieved a legendary “David and Goliath” victory in the defeat of this bill, which would have diminished access to the arts and foreign language courses for high school students.

Sustaining Advocacy on a Local Level

February 16, 2010

By Joe Landon, Policy Director, California Alliance for Arts Education

When I joined the Alliance as its policy director in 2006, they were savoring the hard earned victory that led to California’s historic investment in arts education, including the one time block grant shared with physical education, as well as the ongoing “Arts and Music” categorical funding.

But even then, the Alliance’s concern was shifting toward the question of how to sustain advocacy at the local level, where crucial decisions made by local school boards  determine the quality, equity, and access of arts education in that school district.

When last year the state legislature gave local districts the ‘flexibility’ to spend the Arts and Music Block grant on whatever programs they considered most essential, the Alliance had already embarked on a project to build a local advocacy network in communities and districts throughout the state.

In the first year of this pilot program, we selected ten sites throughout the state, reflecting diverse communities, geographical areas and economic conditions. Our goal was to gather the expertise around what would be required to foster an ongoing coalition of local leaders who share a commitment to build public understanding and support for the critical role of arts education in the development of every student.

True to its name, the California Alliance believes in the unique strength that grows from an alliance of diverse stakeholders. The local coalitions represent a cross section of community interests, including business, community, education and arts organizations. Their united message is intended to convey the myriad ways in which an investment in arts education is an investment in the well being of the larger community.

Although there have been communities throughout the country where there was a sustained effort to organize arts education advocates, there is no precedent for a statewide effort to capture local advocacy. This is challenging work, in the best of times, coming in from a distance to help unite and focus the natural support that exists for arts education in a community.

Right now schools districts around the state are feeling tremendous pressure to scale down services to meet budget cuts. We’ve been here before and we know what happens. We need to fight to protect arts education and that means building coalitions from the ground up in every school district.

This week we’re kicking off a series of ten new local alliances in Orange and San Diego Counties. We look forward to spreading this work throughout the state, providing the support and strategies that local alliances need to advocate effectively for arts education.

If Not Now, When?

December 16, 2009


By Laurie T. Schell, Executive Director, California Alliance for Arts Education

This year, it’s hard to find a news story about the holidays that is not also an account of shrinking resources and making do with less. Despite signs of improvement in the U.S. economy, the landscape is still littered with pink slips, foreclosures and bankruptcies. Against that backdrop, it is easy to understand why people tend to focus on their own interests. A sense of generosity and community-mindedness can seem like things that we cannot ‘afford.’

In the months ahead, we cannot afford not to stand together. With a state budget shortfall, hard-won arts education programs now face major cuts. Narrow agendas and self-interests will have to be set aside to build a broad base of support.  Los Angeles Unified, the second largest school district in the country and the largest in this state, has issued a preliminary budget proposal to cut 50% percent of its elementary arts teachers, 173 of 345 teachers, in 2010-11 and the remaining 50% in the following year. This program has been built over ten years with the full support of the school board and administration. I don’t believe the superintendent wants to make these cuts, but times are dire indeed. That’s why the community must make some noise, show they care, to demonstrate they know that a quality education include the arts. Other school districts are watching, other states are watching, the media is watching to see if the public is willing to fight for quality education.

Arts for LA is spearheading an advocacy campaign to protest the cuts by engaging parents, teachers, artists, and community members to stand and be heard. The California Alliance and other regional and local organizations are lending support to the effort. With the support of the Alliance, similar coalitions are forming in 20 communities across the state. Together, we are working to protect arts education from budget cuts like the ones proposed by LAUSD. Get in touch with us and get involved in your community.

History is replete with examples of generosity and courage during desperate times. The accomplishments of the California Alliance and similar grassroots organizations have been due largely to these types of coalition-building cross-sector approaches and a personal commitment to action. Every success is built on a series of small steps. And oftentimes against all odds, the outcomes are surprising and uplifting. We invite you to take part in the action. Now is the time.

For more information on the Los Angeles Unified campaign, go to www.artsforla.org/groups/lausd

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.