A Nation at Risk: 30 Years Later

Posted by Kristen Engebretsen On May - 1 - 2013
Kristen Engebretsen

Kristen Engebretsen

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves…We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.” ~ from A Nation at Risk

Last Friday I attended an event at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute looking at the impact of the report released back in 1983, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform. According to the Fordham Institute’s website:

“Thirty years ago, A Nation at Risk was released to a surprised country. Suddenly, Americans woke up to learn that SAT scores were plummeting and children were learning a lot less than before. This report became a turning point in modern U.S. education history and marked the beginning of a new focus on excellence, achievement, and results.”

The report language itself called for many sensible reforms, including more instructional time, higher standards for courses and content, stringent high school graduation requirements, and demanding college entrance requirements.

But the sound bite that came out of the report was that we have a “desperate need for increased support for the teaching of mathematics and science.” And, “We are raising a new generation of Americans that is scientifically and technologically illiterate.” Read the rest of this entry »

Jamie Kasper

Jamie Kasper

Imagine a fast-growing, increasingly diverse school district with approximately 2,700 students in grades K–12, located 12 miles from the downtown area of a city. The district currently consists of three buildings: an elementary school (grades K–4), a middle school (grades 6–8), and a high school (grades 9–12). Also imagine the following:

  • Because of the growing population, the district is building a new facility for grades 3-5 that will open in the 2013–2014 school year. This building will have a STEAM focus.
  • In addition to visual arts and music, students in the elementary school also participate in an Arts Alive class. Arts Alive is a performing arts class that focuses on storytelling; students employ dance, music, and theatre to tell and create stories. Students often comment that they wish Arts Alive would continue into the middle school because they learn so much in elementary school.
  • The administrative team—including the superintendent and other central office staff; building leadership; heads of transportation, food service, and grounds; and other leaders—has spent its last three summer leadership retreats at local arts and cultural facilities, engaged in creative arts-based learning with staff from those facilities.
  • The middle school visual arts teacher took it upon herself a few years ago to attend a robotics workshop at a local university. With the help of staff from a special robotics program at the university, she now engages her middle school students in designing, creating, and programming kinetic sculptures that use the elements and principles of design. Read the rest of this entry »

A Heretical View of the Arts from a Science & Math Educator

Posted by Greg Coppa On April - 29 - 2013
Greg Coppa

Greg Coppa

For decades, science and math educators have been the beneficiaries of government largesse, which has often been supplemented by corporate philanthropy. As a high school science teacher for three decades, I have often benefited from this policy along with my students and I have never questioned why it was so.

Many of my post-graduate courses were funded in whole or part by grants from the National Science Foundation. A good number of the many summer programs that I have attended were federally financed by one agency or another. Texts, videotapes, and computer software which I used were developed with government, corporation, or coalition assistance. And I have been very fortunate to have received honors and grants which have been sponsored by federal agencies and an assortment of professional societies.

I cannot warrant that every penny used to fund the variety of things just mentioned was spent wisely by the numerous government agencies and grant recipients. But overall I would have to say that from my vantage point, the taxpayers and corporate sponsors got their money’s worth.

People were trained, energized, and assisted so that they could become better teachers of science or math. Resources or teaching methods were developed which were often better than those previously utilized, or if they turned out to be worse, at least it was known for the future that that was the case. Failure was acceptable and looked at as part of the price for future success. Read the rest of this entry »

The Value of an Afternoon with an Artist

Posted by Ronda Billerbeck On April - 17 - 2013
Ronda Billerbeck

Ronda Billerbeck

On a chilly January afternoon, I sat in a high school library, along with 40 students, listening to Suzanne Vega talk about music. Listening to any artist speak about their work is interesting at the very least and more often than not quite compelling. This was not just any artist.

Suzanne Vega is widely regarded as one of the great songwriters of her generation. She is a masterful storyteller who rewrote the book on what female singer-songwriters can say and do, paving the way for artists like Sarah McLachlan, Tracy Chapman, and the entire Lilith Fair revolution.

Suzanne performed as part of the Kent Arts Commission’s Spotlight Series. In addition to her public concert, she led a school workshop. I incorporate educational activities with professional touring artists as often as I can. Interacting with an artist in an intimate setting, hearing them discuss their vision and process, offers depth of experience that a traditional concert performance cannot. Getting that kind of glimpse into the creative process is unique and powerful—it ignites a passion for and connection with art unlike anything else.

When we have communities that are engaged with art, where art is an integral part of life and a defining characteristic of place, our communities are better for it. They are better economically, socially, and because individuals’ lives are enriched.  Read the rest of this entry »

Singing & Moving into Kindergarten with ArtsBridge & Reading in Motion

Posted by Kerri Hopkins On March - 22 - 2013
Kerri Hopkins

Kerri Hopkins

ArtsBridge America is one of many national programs working to bring the arts back into public school classrooms through arts-integrated projects. Visual arts, music, dance, theatre, and media arts are all crucial art forms that children should be able to explore “for arts sake.”

But in the age of teaching for the test, sometimes the only way we can bring programming to the schools is to look at the arts as a means of enhancing learning in other core subjects. It is not always ideal, but some exposure to quality arts programming is better than none. ArtsBridge aims to provide this type of consistent high-quality programming, while having a lasting impact on everyone involved.

The number one priority of ArtsBridge is to provide much-needed, hands-on arts experiences for K–12 students who may not be getting it on a regular basis. The number two priority of the program is to facilitate a unique opportunity for university students, with a specialty in the arts, to work with classroom teachers who are seeking professional support in those areas. This partnership can be incredibly valuable for everyone involved.

University students, or scholars as we like to call them, receive a scholarship for their efforts while they gain valuable teaching experience in the controlled environment of the classroom. They help to build the capacity of the classroom teacher by training them in their art form as they work side by side with the class on a weekly basis over the course of a semester or sometimes an entire school year.  Read the rest of this entry »

Lizard Brains & Other Learnings from the Preschool Classroom

Posted by Korbi Adams On March - 20 - 2013
Korbi Adams (r) with a friend.

Korbi Adams (r) with a friend.

My professional journey into early childhood education surprised me. Childsplay, the theatre for young audiences where I work, was invited to be a keynote experience at a local Head Start conference.

At this time, we were heavily focused on Drama Frames, an Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination grant program funded by the U.S. Department of Education, working with fourth through sixth grade teachers to integrate drama into writing. So we jumped into this preschool venture blind, and totally fell in love. We left the conference energized about preschool and drama. After a glimpse into the work of early childhood education (ECE), we wanted to stay.

Excited about new possibilities, we took our professional development model to The Helios Education Foundation and proposed that we revise this model for drama and literacy in the ECE classroom. They looked at us and said “no,” politely pointing out to us: “you know education, and you know drama, but you don’t know anything about preschool.” We had to agree.

What happened next changed the course of our project forever. Helios gave us an incredible opportunity. Instead of turning us down outright, they gave us a training grant. We suddenly had the luxury of 18 months to bring in experts, read books, ask questions, and observe the world of ECE!  Read the rest of this entry »

Getting Parents On Board With Creative Development

Posted by Bridget Matros On March - 20 - 2013
Bridget Matros

Bridget Matros

The ubiquitous hand-print turkey—to me, a symbol of how artmaking during early childhood is trivialized, as it pertains to the serious stuff of developing (or crushing) critical aptitudes needed in the 21st century.

Preserving and developing the creativity of the young child through quality artmaking experiences—it’s a challenge for those of us who were artistically “squashed” or deprived during our critical years. It’s a tender task, so easily undermined by the well-intended comments of parents who share a “creative deficit!”

Here I’ll share some tips for the “parent issue”—I hope to talk with you about the rest in the comments below!

Making the shift of priorities from “cuteness factor” to experiential value in the classroom is an uphill battle. Teacher prep programs include “process over product” and “there’s no way to do art wrong” as general guidelines, but resources for putting those ideas into practice are scarce; resources, printables, and materials for craft projects that teach conformity, art-for-pleasing-others, and external guidelines over self-expression are everywhere!

What’s more, the latter is what parents (and school administration/program funders, etc.) want: cut-out pumpkins colored orange with black triangles glued on are a kind of currency for early childhood educators.  Read the rest of this entry »

Quickly Making a Difference in Early Childhood Arts Education

Posted by Ron Jones On March - 20 - 2013
Ron Jones

Ron Jones

There seems to be an unstated assumption that any change in how the arts are utilized in early childhood education requires that the focus be on influencing and shaping the pedagogy of the teachers who currently work directly with this age group. That seems like a practical strategy, but we all know how challenging it is to initiate change.

I would submit that there is another avenue, a quicker and more effective path for accomplishing our goals with early childhood.

This avenue is at least as powerful as any other strategy advocated and, at its best, may be the most efficient way to implement beneficial change—positioning the arts as central to and essential for early childhood education.

I would argue that it is easier and faster to shape the philosophy and ensure a new approach to pedagogy when the focus is education majors within our colleges and universities.

The resistance to change evidenced in many experienced educators, be they teachers or principals, makes it difficult for me to believe that we can witness significant influence over what happens; rather, or at least at the same time, we must marshal the energy, enthusiasm, and commitment of soon-to-be teachers. Harnessing that energy will yield positive results in just a few short years. We must create a transition that permeates every classroom, that impacts every student, and that is advanced by every educator.  Read the rest of this entry »

Arts Education Needs Your Love…and a Little Celebration

Posted by Ken Busby On February - 19 - 2013
Ken Busby

Ken Busby

Last week we celebrated Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day. Two weeks ago, the Arts Education Council of Americans for the Arts met in Mesa, AZ to determine how we can best serve local arts agencies that are providing arts education programs.

How are these seemingly disparate events related you might ask? Let me tell you!

Arts education needs all the love you can give! And you can’t just let the good times roll without there being a few consequences. If we don’t work together to keep the importance of arts education at the forefront of people’s minds, they will fall by the wayside.

There was much discussion at our meeting in Mesa about arts integration, how to help local communities be stronger advocates for the arts, ways to highlight effective programs as models for other communities, and trends in the field and where we need to be heading if we are to keep the arts at the core of learning.

One thing that is clear in 2013—for arts education to be a real focus for educators and politicians at all levels, we as local arts agencies, we as arts teachers, and we as arts advocates are going to have to continue to work collaboratively and stay ahead of the curve in terms of research and best practices, and continue to demonstrate the value of the arts in developing a 21st century workforce. Read the rest of this entry »

Artist Charlavail designed this amazing pair of Vans.

As a Vans Custom Culture national charity partner in 2013, Americans for the Arts is proud to work closely with Vans to reinforce the importance of arts education in schools across the country.

With the launch of the Vans Custom Culture art competition on January 2, budding artists and designers are racing to have their teachers fill registration slots open to the first 1,500 U.S.-based public or private high schools (more than 650 have already entered!).

The program, in its fourth iteration, pushes students to compete and create a work of art from a blank pair of Vans shoes. Each blank shoe must be designed by using the following themes: Art, Music, Action Sports, and Local Flavor.

Students will have until April 5 to complete the shoes and submit their images online. The Custom Culture competition will generate $50,000 for the winning school’s art program at the final judging in New York this summer while simultaneously drawing attention to the importance of art as an integral part of a well-rounded education.

Artists, fashion designers, athletes, and local news anchors are all being tapped to create their own custom shoes as Ambassadors of the program. Eager to provide inspiration wherever possible, Ambassadors are tweeting images (#VansCustomCulture) of their own custom designs. Some of our favorites can be found below and also on the Vans Custom Culture siteRead the rest of this entry »

Use Arts Integration to Enhance Common Core

Posted by Susan Riley On December - 20 - 2012

Susan Riley

These days, integration in any area, be it STEM or the arts, seems to be the buzzword to curriculum designers everywhere. There are so many resources floating around out there with the claim of integrating content areas. Yet, true integration is often difficult to find. Indeed, integration is a rare yet seemingly “magical” approach that has the capacity to turn learning into meaningful practice.

Which of course, as any teacher will tell you, is anything but magic.

Integration requires collaboration, research, intentional alignment, and practical application on behalf of the teachers who take on this challenge. From the students, integration demands creativity, problem-solving, perseverance, collaboration, and the ability to work through the rigorous demands of multiple ideas and concepts woven together to create a final product.

Integration is not simply combining two or more contents together. It is an approach to teaching which includes intentional identification of naturally aligned standards, taught authentically alongside meaningful assessments which take both content areas to a whole new level. Put together, these components set the foundation for how we will be able to facilitate the Common Core State Standards. Read the rest of this entry »

Hope is Vital…But Is It Scalable?

Posted by Michael Rohd On December - 3 - 2012

Michael Rohd

In 1991, I founded a theater-based civic dialogue program in Washington, DC called Hope Is Vital. It brought a group of local teens and a group of HIV+ men who were receiving services at a center called Health Care for the Homeless into meaningful, productive collaboration with each other.

For 18 months, we created and conducted performance workshops all over the metro D.C. area for hundreds of young people focused on HIV/AIDS prevention and sexuality education. We worked at schools, youth shelters, correctional facilities, hospital drop-in clinics, churches, and afterschool programs.

After a period of challenging but immensely rewarding work, we felt that our approach—our model—could be useful in other places. The group gave me a mission: take our product, which was in fact a process, and try, at the age of 25, to head out into the world and spread the word.

Pre-email and pre-cellphone, I accepted the recklessly ambitious and well-meaning, impact-based, artistic necessity of scaling up. Community by community, program by program. I spent almost seven years doing that. I learned some things.

First, do the thing

In 1993, one of the first things I did was write Madonna a letter. I asked her to help fund our idea for a national network of programs like ours. Instant scalability via pop star. She was a big funder of HIV/AIDS prevention work back in the day, so it was only a half crazy gesture. Madonna did not write me back. Read the rest of this entry »

Teacher Gets to Core Curriculum through the Blues

Posted by Jon Schwartz On November - 20 - 2012

Jon rocks out with students.

By day I am an elementary school teacher; by night I’m a wannabe blues musician. For years I kept these two callings separate, but with the Kids Like Blues Band, I found a way to combine my love for the blues and teaching.

By using blues music to engage kids in academic core subjects and the visual and performing arts, my students and I have discovered an innovative program that has brought endless creativity and excitement to thematic, standards-based teaching.

The gig hasn’t ended there though—we’ve taken our act on the road and performed at a street fair, a local college, and live on television. My students and I approach school with a sense of excitement and eagerness, motivated by the blues and rocking out each day!

In addition to having tons of fun, we’ve received recognition from the academic community. The U.S. Department of Education recently featured our work in their “Teaching Matters” newsletter, KPBS-TV did a feature on us, and several professors of education are using our videos to teach their students how to integrate the visual and performing arts into academic instruction.

Using Blues as a Thematic Teaching Tool

Wondering how this creative approach to learning works? Check out this video: Read the rest of this entry »

Vans: Committed to Helping Visual Art in Schools

Posted by Adriane Fink On November - 5 - 2012

Generating $50,000 for the winning school’s art program while simultaneously drawing attention to the importance of art as an integral part of a well-rounded education, Vans Custom Culture comes back in its fourth iteration with registration opening on January 2, 2013:

The Vans Custom Culture Competition sparks the creativity and teamwork of art students across the country as they work together to design blank pairs of canvas shoes into wearable pieces of art.

Shoes are sent out in the month of February to the first 1,500 U.S.-based public or private high schools that register and students have until April 5 to complete the shoes and submit their images online.

Each registered school receives four blank canvas shoes they must design using the following themes: art, music, action sports, and local flavor—a design inspired by the surrounding community, city, or state.

An internal selection narrows the field down to 50 participants and the external online public vote whittles those 50 schools down to a group of five finalists who will be flown to New York City for the final judging in June 2013.

The winning school receives a $50,000 prize for their art program and the opportunity for the shoes to be produced and sold in Vans’ retail stores. The remaining schools won’t go home empty handed—the four runners-up will receive a cash prize of $4,000 towards their art program. Read the rest of this entry »

Is Arts Integration Working?

Posted by Ken Busby On September - 28 - 2012

Ken Busby

Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, discussed the importance of the arts to the overall education of our children:

“The arts are an important part of a well-rounded education for all students.  All of the arts—dance, music, theatre, and the visual artsare essential to preparing our nation’s young people for a global economy fueled by innovation and creativity and for a social discourse that demands communication in images and sound as well as in text.” 

He went on to say, “research shows that arts-rich schoolsones that provide opportunities for students to experience the arts in deep and meaningful ways and to make curricular connections with math, science, and the humanitiesare more engaging for students.”

And he referenced research that all of us in the arts education field have used for years saying, “We know that students who attend arts-rich schools are more likely to stay in school and go on to graduate from college.”

At the end of his comments, Duncan issued a challenge: “Now is the time to make the arts a vital part of a complete education for all students.”

Here’s the conundrum…

The U.S. Secretary of Education states what we know to be true. He states it with authority and without equivocation. And yet, we continue to see education budgets slashed year after year. And we continue to see the arts and art opportunities diminished within our schools in favor of more “time on task” for reading and math, and more testing. The disparity among schools is widening, with some really outstanding schools at the top, a few in the middle, and more and more considered “failing.” Typically, the schools with the lowest performing students are also the schools with the least amount of arts opportunities and integration.

What to do? Read the rest of this entry »

Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.