Placido Domingo: Require music in schools

Opera star Placido Domingo calls for requiring music education in an interview with John Merrow. Learning Matters’ full music education story will air on PBS NewsHour this week. It features Domingo conducting a concert of New York city students from P.S. 129 and 152 as part of the Harmony Program, which offers free after-school music education to mostly low-income students.

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College’s economic value depends on the degree

College is worth it, but majors linked to occupations offer better job prospects than majors focused on general skills, concludes a new Georgetown report, Hard Times: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal (pdf).

Another general rule: “People who make technology are better off than people who use technology.”

A bachelor’s degree is one of the best weapons a job seeker can wield in the fight for employment and earnings. And staying on campus to earn a graduate degree provides safe
shelter from the immediate economic storm, and will pay off with greater employability and earnings once the graduate enters the labor market. Unemployment for students with new
bachelor’s degrees is an unacceptable 8.9 percent, but it’s a catastrophic 22.9 percent for job seekers with a recent high school diploma — and an almost unthinkable 31.5 percent for recent high school dropouts.

Except for architecture graduates, who’ve been hit hard by the construction crash, unemployment rates are higher in non-technical majors such as the arts (11.1 percent), humanities and liberal arts (9.4 percent), social sciences (8.9 percent) and law and public policy (8.1 percent).

Unemployment is low for computer science (7.8 percent) and math (6 percent) graduates who can write software and invent new applications, higher for information systems graduates (11.7 percent)  “who use software to manipulate, mine, and disseminate information.”  However, the report predicts jobs for computer majors will “bounce back strongly” as the recovery proceeds.

Median earnings among recent college graduates vary from $55,000 among engineering majors to $30,000 in the arts, psychology and social work. While new graduates in computer engineering average $60,000, physiology graduates average only $24,000.

STEM to STEAM?

Arts advocates want to get on the science-math bandwagon, turning STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) to STEAM, reports Ed Week.

For instance, the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership, with support from a $1.1 million Education Department grant, is working with city schools to help elementary students better understand abstract concepts in science and mathematics, such as fractions and geometric shapes, through art-making projects.

Harvey Seifter, director of the Art of Science Learning, organizes STEAM conferences, arguing that studying art teaches creativity.

John Maeda, the president of the Rhode Island School of Design, “invokes STEAM as a pathway to enhance U.S. economic competitiveness, citing as an example the late Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, a leading force behind the iPod, iPhone, and other electronic devices,” Ed Week writes.

Sure, the arts are important. And integrating subjects often makes sense. But I worry that students will spend less time learning science and math and more time on the “crayola curriculum.”

 

3 Rs, 4 Cs and the arts

P21 (Partnership for 21st Century Skills) has released a skills map for the arts, which shows “how the three Rs and four Cs (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration and creativity and innovation) can be fused within arts curriculum.”

. . . at the fourth-grade level, students could be asked to perform and record the same story three times; once with words only, once with physical movement only, and once with both. They then review the different performances and reflect in group discussions and individual writing about how the presentations and story changed and whether or not one version communicated more effectively than another and why.

At the eighth-grade level, students could be asked to examine how composers, artists, choreographers, and playwrights use the arts to communicate particular ideas, themes, or concepts and to evoke particular emotions or feelings. They then would develop multimedia presentations illustrating how such communication occurs through each of the arts disciplines.

In twelfth grade, students could be asked to view and discuss single or multiple works of art created by themselves and their peers. Students would be required to use mutually agreed upon criteria (elements and principals of art and design, subject matter, technique, style, etc.) to describe, analyze, interpret, and make informed judgments about the art works.

This seems a little 22nd century to me.

Why arts education isn't a luxury

On The Answer Sheet, cognitive scientist Dan Willingham argues that arts education is more than a luxury, citing a speech by Jerry Kagan, a developmental psychology researcher.

First, he estimated that something like 95% of children are capable of doing the work necessary to obtain a high school diploma, yet the dropout rate hovers around 25%. Too many of these students quit because they decide (usually in about the fourth grade) that school is not the place for them. This decision is based largely on their perception of their performance in reading and mathematics. The arts, Kagan argues, offers such students another chance to feel successful, and to feel that they belong at school.

Second, Kagan argues that children today have very little sense of agency — that is, the sense that they undertake activities that have an impact on the world, however small. Kagan notes that as a child he had the autonomy to explore his town on his own, something that most parents today would not allow. When not exploring, his activities were necessarily of his own design, whereas children today would typically watch television or roam the internet, activities that are frequently passive and which encourage conformity. The arts, Kagan argues, offer that sense of agency, of creation.

And there’s more.

Art and music haven't vanished

The National Report Card on the Arts finds little change in eighth graders’ access to music or visual arts instruction from 1997 to 2008 or in their musical and artistic knowledge. From USA Today:

Gather up a group of eighth-graders, pop in a CD of George Gershwin’s seminal Rhapsody in Blue and turn up the volume.

Then ask: In those first few seconds, what keening, soaring, note-bending instrument do you hear?

When the federal government put this question to thousands of eighth-graders in 1997, only about half knew it was a clarinet. When they tried again last year, the results were the same.

Middle-school administrators polled as part of the tests say students are just as likely to have received regular instruction in music and arts in 2008 as in 1997. That suggests that No Child Left Behind, the federal effort begun in 2002 to increase the basic math and reading skills of children, may not have adversely affected middle schoolers’ instruction time in the arts, as many critics worried.

More students are getting regular music instruction, but fewer say they’ve gone on a field trip to an art museum or art show. On the other hand, 80 percent say they paint or draw regularly in school.

LA builds arts palace for the untalented

Los Angeles Unified’s new arts school will have a very expensive “world-class” building — but the school won’t enroll the most talented students, reports the LA Times. In fact, students with artistic, musical and dramatic talent will be urged to go elsewhere.

. . . usually in the case of a school play, “The part’s going to go to the kid who shows the greatest talent, and that’s not the kind of school that this is going to be,” (district administrator Richard) Alonzo said. “This is really looking at building potential in communities that have been underserved, for kids that really haven’t had the chance.”

While the school might tell star performers that they would likely be happier elsewhere, it won’t refuse to accept them if they really want to attend, he said.

For years, neighborhood students attended low-performing schools. The district now has put $232 million into the unnamed arts school (naming rights go for $25 million): It has space for 1,700 students.

Up a broad flight of stairs, the campus’ main buildings offer three dance studios with sprung maple flooring.

A professional-quality, 950-seat theater. Music classrooms with acoustic tiling and special whiteboards designed for musical notation.

Floor-to-ceiling windows with motorized blackout shades. Ceiling-mounted projectors in every classroom, allowing teachers to display lessons from computers.

Track lighting in the hallways to illuminate student art. An outdoor atrium for firing Japanese raku pottery. And the school’s centerpiece, a conical library whose dazzling interior swirls upward to an off-center skylight.

The nearby Roybal Learning Center, plagued by toxics issues, cost $400 million; it will serve 2,500 students.

Let’s hope LA has a few bucks left over for “world-class” teaching, curriculum design, books and technology.