Posts Tagged ‘music’

Arts Ed Shouldn’t Be an “Either/Or” Proposition

June 9, 2010

Alliance: Last week, as the California Assembly prepared to vote on AB 2446 (Furutani), the Alliance put out a call to arts education advocates.1500 advocates responded, sending messages of opposition to their representatives in the Assembly. We were inspired by the response and share one of those letters with you here. It was written by Bill Martinez, a music teacher in San Dimas, California.

Although the bill passed in the Assembly, we will continue our fight in the Senate. At a time when local districts have been forced to drastically cut art and music programs, this bill would further diminish access to arts education. It changes the high school graduation requirement, forcing students to choose between the Arts and Career Technical Education (CTE) and Foreign Language. As Martinez explains below, an “either / or” choice doesn’t serve California’s students

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My wife and I have both been Music teachers for 15 years. During this time we have had the good fortune to work in communities that have supported our efforts to improve the educational experiences of our students. Unfortunately, we have also had to deal with adversity common to arts teachers in California but uncommon to teachers in other core subjects. (I need to stress that Music and the Arts are Core subjects under No Child Left Behind.) Assembly Bill 2446 appears to be yet another symptom of the lack of regard and respect paid to our chosen subject matter.

Proof of the value of Music and Arts Education is abundant; I encourage you to go to the Music Educators National Conference website – menc.org – for a sampling of the abundance of research available on the subject. Despite this, for 15 years we have had to justify our value to the school curriculum over and over again: Budget problems, the perception that the Arts are a “luxury”, old and irreparable equipment (instruments) that can’t or won’t be replaced due to budget concerns, school site plans that take Arts availability away from students who score low on a standardized test, and the obsessive over-reliance of data from these tests that have turned students into statistics – Arts programs have survived, and in many schools thrived despite these obstacles. Arts advocacy has become a second (unpaid) job for many Arts teachers, and it will continue to be as long as our place in the curriculum needs to be justified.

Lumping other educational areas together with Arts education under one umbrella, as this appears to do, cheapens the value of all the courses involved. Could anyone imagine telling a high school student that they could fulfill a graduation requirement by taking either Algebra or Biology?

Regardless of what one thinks of the merits of Vocational courses, Arts education is unique and valuable on its own terms. It is certainly a component of the “College-Going-Culture” touted by school administrators and by the State’s own Taking Center Stage II” initiative. And it deserves to be preserved and expanded whenever possible. Any legislation that restricts student access to the Arts, or relegates it to “optional” status, as this appears to do, should not be considered. And I would certainly hope that the Governor, whose own wealth and status are a direct result of Arts involvement, would feel the same way, and that his example would inspire you to encourage advocating the Arts for all students.

Sincerely,
Bill Martinez
San Dimas, California

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

Tear Down This Wall

November 18, 2009

By Laurie T. Schell, Executive Director

In the recent celebration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, President Reagan’s now famous speech exhorting Soviet President Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” replayed over and over again in print, radio and televised media. While the words echo a specific time and political context, the sentiment behind the words—of the need to tear down artificial barriers in order to effect lasting change– is one that arts education advocates would do well to embrace.

In spite of a sagging economy and plummeting state support for public education in California, there are clear signs of a shift in public perception about the value of arts education. The public, with parents in the forefront, has made it known that they want a quality education for their children, one that includes the visual and performing arts. We see evidence of this in California with the passage of the historic Arts and Music Block Grant funds of $105 – $109 million in 2006, 2007 and 2008. In the PSA announcements from the state’s largest teachers union, which decry the loss of arts programs in an attempt to gain more funding for education. In the stories from local advocates who have successfully lobbied to save their elementary music programs. The perception is out there— the public believes the arts are an essential part of a quality education.

Perception and reality are, unfortunately, two different things. The gains in public acceptance can be undone when an “either/or” argument is put forward, forcing choices or walls between PE and the arts, between community based arts organizations and schools, between Career Tech Ed courses and arts courses, and between in school and after school time. A complete education, which includes the arts, is about “both/and” not “either/or.” All of it is important.

In the arts education arena, we’ve always understood the value of a diverse constituency—parents, artists, teachers, business and community leaders. What we have yet to realize is an effective cross sector approach that subscribes to a vision that is larger than the sum of its parts. Embracing a common vision of excellence in education means placing students at the center, rather than institutions.

We need to continue to address the issue across many sectors—through national, state and local policy, local community advocacy, partnerships between schools and arts organizations, better pre-service education for generalist teachers, leadership development for school administrators, relentless exposure in the media, deeper relationships with the business community, to name a few. Everyone has a role. No one sits this one out.

Ultimately our strength comes from the creation a system of shared responsibility, or reciprocal accountability across sectors. Reciprocal accountability not only holds schools and teachers responsible for student learning, but also federal, state, and local educational agencies for ensuring that schools have adequate capacity and resources to provide strong instruction to all students, and parents, community and business members for giving voice and passion to the vision.

Tear down the artificial barriers that divide us and provide students the opportunities they need to be successful, caring and productive adults.

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.

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!

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