A Month to Support the Arts in Our Schools

The Music In Our Schools Tour, featuring Danielle Bradbery of The Voice, which starts in Disneyland and ends at Disney World, honors five schools for their excellent music programs. Pictured from left to right: Student Wendy Holloway; student Anthony Rodarte; singer Danielle Bradbery; Mickey Mouse; and student Angelisa Calderon. (Photo courtesy of Disney Performing Arts/Scott Brinegar)

The Music In Our Schools Tour, featuring Danielle Bradbery of The Voice, which starts in Disneyland and ends at Walt Disney World, honors five schools for their excellent music programs. Pictured from left to right: Student Wendy Holloway; student Anthony Rodarte; singer Danielle Bradbery; Mickey Mouse; and student Angelisa Calderon. (Photo courtesy of Disney Performing Arts/Scott Brinegar)

The arts are an important part of a well-rounded education for all students. Arts-rich schools, those with high-quality arts programs and comprehensive course offerings, benefit students in and outside of the art or dance studio, music room, or stage. “All children deserve arts-rich schools,” Secretary Duncan told an audience of arts education advocates in 2012, as he discussed the disappointing results of an ED survey that showed many students lacking adequate access to arts education.

There’s no better time to echo the secretary’s pronouncement than in March, widely known as “Arts in the Schools Month.” Under the leadership of national associations representing teachers of dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts, a variety of activities unfold throughout the month — some that showcase the achievements of students and others that focus on the professional growth of arts educators committed to achieving the goal of arts-rich schools for all students.

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Solving the Innovation Alignment Challenge With an Ecosystem Approach

InnovateNYC high school choice app 1

A New York City school student and parent, with the help of a software developer, view data on high school choice available through the School Choice Design Challenge. (Photo courtesy of Innovate NYC Schools)

“The lack of innovation in education is not due to a lack of creativity, but the misalignment of student and educator need to the market supply of innovations.” That’s the guiding premise of Innovate NYC Schools, a 2011 i3 Development grantee that is using technology to increase the degree of alignment and making students and teachers integral to the change process. The project is furthering the development and evaluation of the “Education Innovation Ecosystem,” a network of NYC schools, partner districts, solution developers, and investors that is helping to meet the STEM-related learning challenges of middle and high school students.

Two dynamics in school system bureaucracies combine to stymie innovation: On the one hand, changes in policy only get you so far; they “don’t lead to durable improvements in practice,” contends Steven Hodas, Innovate NYC Schools’ executive director. Moreover, this fact, he says, often causes the most innovative companies on the outside of the school bureaucracy to take a pass on responding to school systems’ RFPs to develop new products or services.

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What You Get When You Mix Arts with Science

It was a classic “win-win” on display when Secretary Duncan visited a preschool classroom at Brightwood Elementary School in Northwest Washington, D.C., recently. The children were learning concepts in science through music and dance. Nationally, in many schools and districts science is not taught in the elementary grades, much less in preschool. And based on a recent Department of Education report on arts education, in many places, particularly urban school districts, the arts are missing as well in early learning.

Teacher Kalpana Kumar-Sharma and her students make arts and science connections through music. (Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams)

Teacher Kalpana Kumar-Sharma and her students make arts and science connections through music. (Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams)

Secretary Duncan, accompanied by D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, visited teacher Kalpana Kumar-Sharma’s classroom to see how an innovative approach to combining the arts and science is working as the result of an OII arts education grant to the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning in the Arts. Like many other Wolf Trap early learning programs, Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts (Early STEM/Arts) pairs a teaching artist who is skilled in arts integration with the preschool teacher.

While Brightwood Elementary is not explicitly a STEM or arts focused school, Artist Laura Schandelmeier has been visiting the Brightwood classroom weekly for several months to collaborate with Ms. Kumar-Sharma on lessons that combine dance and music with science. Based on the model that has evolved over the past three years in nearby Fairfax County preschool classes, the goal is to leave Ms. Kumar-Sharma with an understanding of arts integration and the skills and confidence to implement future integrated lessons on her own. Click here to read an OII home page article about the Early STEM/Arts project funded by the
Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD) grants program.

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A Simple Presumption for Arts in Education Week

Arts in Ed Week logo“I start from a simple presumption that I think most parents and teachers share.  And that is that all students – 100 percent – should have access to arts instruction.  All Children should have arts-rich schools.” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

And the U.S. Congress agrees. In fact, in 2010, it passed Concurrent Resolution 275 to declare the week that begins with the second Sunday in September Arts in Education Week. The Arts Education Partnership (AEP), in keeping with its role as America’s premier source of information on the role of the arts in the education and lives of our children and youth, is hosting a special Arts in Education Week website to share news of the acknowledgements of the importance of arts education and nationwide events occurring this week.

Secretary Duncan talks with students at one of the ED's frequent Student Art Exhibit Openings at the Department's headquarters.

Secretary Duncan talks with students at one of the ED’s frequent Student Art Exhibit Openings at the Department’s headquarters.

Year-round, there are stories in the media about arts education — often times about the increasing body of research that supports their essentialness in a well-rounded education. For this week, however, AEP asked a group of arts and education leaders to share their thoughts on “What story about the arts in education still needs to be told?” These “untold stories” provide plenty of ideas and inspiration to achieve the goal of arts-rich schools for all children.

As the week is unfolding, others are adding their thoughts to both the AEP special website and its Facebook. AEP also issued a special edition of ArtsEd Digest to highlight additional information and resources pertinent to this week’s nationwide advocacy and public awareness efforts, including links to a number of valuable AEP brochures and reports. And don’t forget to follow the discussion this week about arts education at #ArtsEdWeek.

And watch this space next week for a blog about the opening of the annual exhibit of art works by national winners of the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards in the Department of Education’s headquarters, which is part of ED’s Student Art Exhibit Program.

Doug Herbert is a special assistant in the Office of Innovation and Improvement and works on issues of national arts education policy and practice.