Arts ed is back in Boston

Boston Public Schools are strengthening arts education, reports PBS NewsHour. K-8 students now take music, theater, dance and visual art at least once a week.

Test our kids, say art, music teachers 

Worried that only what’s tested is valued, art and music teachers are trying to develop common assessments of their students’ skills, reports Hechinger’s Sarah Butrymowicz. It’s not easy.

In New Hampshire, the experimental exam asked high school students “to research an artist, create a piece of art inspired by the artist’s work and then write a reflection about the experience,” writes Butrymowicz.

Teachers met over the summer to see whether they could agree on grading and tweak the assessments.

Elementary school art teachers Sarah Boudreau and Justina Austin “laid out about two dozen self-portraits drawn by their fourth-grade students,” reportsButrymowicz. “They needed to agree on a score of 1, 2, 3 or 4 for each piece, based on predetermined grading criteria, such as drawing skills and oil pastel blending technique.”

Meanwhile, music teachers tried to assign scores to “improvised student performances on the recorder” based on “pitch, tone and rhythm.”

In its arts tests, Florida has incorporated multiple-choice and short-answer questions that are easy to score efficiently. New Hampshire and Michigan are trying something more ambitious: devising tasks that require a student to submit a finished piece of artwork or perform a piece of music. These tests are time-intensive to administer and grade, however, and the results are difficult to translate into a single numeric score.

“When the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, included an arts test in 1997, it required students to produce real works of art in addition to answering standard multiple-choice questions,” writes Butrymowicz.  NAEP ended up with “semitractor-trailers full of student-created clay bunnies.”

Arts tests in 2008 and 2016 relied on digitized photos and videos.

Even the best scoring systems won’t capture everything, said Timothy Brophy, director of institutional assessment and professor of music education at the University of Florida.“We’re all pretty glad that Monet and Da Vinci didn’t go to a school that said, ‘You need to [paint] in this way to meet a rubric,’ ” he said.

‘Hallelujah’ in elementary school

Hallelujah shows the power of music education, reports Ed Week. The short film shows Peter Mancini, who teaches at a New York City elementary school, preparing his young musicians to play Handel’s Messiah in the Spring Concert. Most of his students are immigrants and the children of immigrants, says filmmaker Aliza Eliazarov.

Learning music develops the brain

Youth Orchestra Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel leads the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles. Photo: Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging

Studying music may improve young children’s auditory and language-processing abilities, according to early findings of a study published in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. That could help kids learn to read.

University of Southern California researchers began following 45 children from lower-income bilingual families (most are Latino, one is Korean)  when the children were 6 and 7, reports Jackie Zubrzycki in Education Week.

Yashelyn, 9, plays violin in the Youth Orchestra LA at the Heart of Los Angeles music program class in Los Angeles. Photo: Eric Grigorian/ Education Week

Yashelyn, 9, plays violin in the Youth Orchestra LA. Photo: Eric Grigorian/ Education Week

The Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles is teaching 13 of the children to play musical instruments using the El Sistema approach developed in Venezuela. Another group plays soccer and the third has no after-school activity.

After two years, brain scans showed the music students “had more-developed auditory pathways than their peers,” writes Zubrzycki. “The authors write that this development in auditory processing also affects students’ ability to process speech and language — which means it could have an impact on students’ academic progress as well as their musical abilities.”

Kinders read more, play less

Kindergarteners are reading more and playing less, concludes a University of Virginia study.

In 1998, before No Child Left Behind put the focus on achievement gaps, 31 percent of kindergarten teachers expected their students to learn to read that year. By 2010, 80 percent believed kindergarteners should be learning to read.

Seventy-three percent of kindergarteners took a standardized test in 2010. That’s more than first graders took in 1998. Kindergarten teachers weren’t asked about testing. writes NPR’s Anya Kamenetz.

Fewer teachers offer music and art every day and there were “notable drops in teachers saying they covered science topics like dinosaurs and outer space, which kids this age find really engaging,” says Daphna Bassok, the study’s lead author.

There were large, double-digit decreases in the percentages of teachers who said their classrooms had areas for dress-up, a water or sand table, an art area or a science/nature area. And teachers who offered at least an hour a day of student-driven activities dropped from 54 to 40 percent. At the same time, whole-class, teacher-led instruction rose along with the use of textbooks and worksheets.

However, children are more likely to have recess and just as likely to have a P.E. class.

With the sharp rise in preschool enrollment, teachers may expect more from students, writes Kamenetz. That leads to a sort of academic arms race: 1 in 5 kindergarteners is already six years old as more parents may wait a year to enroll a child who’s not ready for reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and testing.

All reading and math makes Jack a dull boy


The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David.

All reading and math skills — without exposure to the arts — makes Jack a dull boy — and not much of a reader, argues Jay Greene. “More research is beginning to show that a broader education, including the arts, may be essential for later success in math and reading as well as the proper development of civic values and character skills, including tolerance, empathy, and self-regulation.”

Kindergarten and first-grade teachers are spending less time teaching music, art, dance and theater, research shows.

Long-term success in math, reading and science depends on the general knowledge and fine-motor skills learned through the arts, studies show, Greene adds.

Researchers urge teaching children “a better understanding of the world”  by improving science and social studies instruction and building foundational skills through “the arts, music, dance, physical education, and free play.”

Greene’s research has found that “field trips to art museums and to see live theater” not only build general knowledge, they “change student values to promote greater tolerance and empathy.”

Hablas Java? Parlez-vous Python?

Credit: Jillian Lees, Daily Titan

Credit: Jillian Lees, Daily Titan

Computer coding could substitute for a foreign language for Florida high school students applying to state universities under a bill moving through the Legislature, reports the Sun Sentinel.

State Sen. Jeremy Ring, a former Yahoo executive, thinks students should study a foreign language in the early grades, then learn coding in high school. People without technology skills “will be left behind,” he believes.

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is campaigning against the bill. It would make as much sense to call music a language, Carvalho said.

In defense of knowledge

The Knowledge Matters campaign is lobbying for schools to teach a broad curriculum including history, science, geography, art and music — especially to “those least likely to gain such knowledge outside school.”
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You’d think there’d be no need to ask schools to teach knowledge,  but it’s being pushed aside by drill in reading skills and by the belief that kids don’t need to know anything because they can just look everything up.

“Fifty years of solid research demonstrates that broad knowledge is vital to language comprehension and deep knowledge is vital to critical analysis,” argues the Knowledge Matters campaign. “Through broad and deep knowledge, students become the informed, thoughtful citizens our nation—and world—needs.”

New Orleans improves — with black teachers

A new generation of black teachers are part of New Orleans’ schools revival, writes Citizen (Chris) Stewart, who grew up in the city and attended neighborhood schools.

The Orleans Parish School Board — not “white school reformers” — put the city’s teachers on unpaid “disaster leave” because the schools were closed, he writes. That enabled teachers to collect unemployment benefits.

When schools reopened, the Recovery School District required that teacher candidates pass a basic skills test. “One third of the returning teachers failed that test,” writes Stewart.

“Veteran” and “experienced” don’t necessarily mean “quality,” he argues.

(Critics say) the fired black teachers “knew the kids” and “were the backbone of the black middle class.”

. . . The children of New Orleans deserve every shot at a good life we can proivde them. We can’t get there by viewing schools as a jobs program for the black bourgeoisie.

. . . Yes, some of the previous NOLA schools had many lovely, dedicated people working hard in a deeply dysfunctional system that blocked them from doing their best work.

At the same time, many others needed to go.

Today,  54 percent of NOLA teachers and 58 percent of RSD school leaders are black, writes Stewart. Blacks make up 59 percent of the city’s population.

“Great black school leaders and educators are working hard in a new system with many hopeful new possibilities,” he concludes. This time, growth of the black middle class is linked to “academic results for poor black children.”

Education Week‘s excellent series, The Re-Education of New Orleans, includes an interview with a veteran teacher who wasn’t rehired after Katrina.

Resurgence, by Public Impact and New Schools for New Orleans, analyzes what’s changed in NOLA.

74 Million’s Matt Barnum answers critics who downplay progress in NOLA schools.

Music is vital for community and culture, reports Ed Week.

Judging a music teacher by reading, math scores

Music, art, P.E. and other non-academic teachers are being judged based on reading and math scores, writes Alexandria Neason on Slate.

Nick Prior teaches music at Albuquerque’s Eisenhower Middle School. His choirs have won state and national competitions. He won a statewide teaching award from the New Mexico Music Educators Association in 2014.
Nicholas D Prior’s teacher evaluation form.But Prior was rated “minimally effective” on his annual evaluation. He earned 33.25 points out of a possible 100 in the “student achievement” category that made up half of the document. “Achievement” had nothing to do with music. It was based on reading and math scores of his school’s lowest performing quarter of students, many of whom hadn’t taken one of his classes.

Prior earned average or above-average ratings in classroom observations, teacher attendance, and student and parent surveys, but it wasn’t enough to balance the low reading and math scores.

Forty-two states across the country have moved in recent years to evaluate all teachers at least in part on student test score growth, according to the National Center for Teacher Quality. But tens of thousands of teachers work with students in grades that aren’t tested (like kindergarten) or subjects in which standardized tests typically don’t exist (like art, music, and physical education).

Officials in Nevada are even considering how they might hold support staff—like school nurses and counselors—responsible for student test results, arguing that they impact student achievement by keeping students healthy and able to learn.

Some are creating new tests to measure music, art and PE achievement, writes Neason. Others argue that all school staffers are responsible for teaching foundational literacy and math skills.

The percentage of a teacher’s evaluation that rests on schoolwide scores varies from 5 percent for Chicago high school teachers to 25 percent in Tennessee, as high as 40 percent in Florida, and 50 percent in New Mexico, according to Neason.

Prior, who makes $30,000 as a “level one” or beginning, teacher, had hoped for an advanced rating that would raise his pay to $40,,000. Instead, he could lose his teaching license if his score doesn’t improve next year.