Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock these last few months, you’ve probably noticed the recent media coverage focused on education reform. First, there was the Newsweek article in July, “The Creativity Crisis”, that explored the alarming downward trend in our children’s creative abilities … In late August the U.S. Department of Education announced the winners of the federal Race To The Top funding (huzzah! Rhode Island won a 75 million dollar grant) … In mid-September, Oprah Winfrey dedicated two shows in one week to education reform, shining a spotlight on the stirring documentary “Waiting For Superman” and then on the $100 million challenge grant pledged by Facebook founder (er, co-founder?) Mark Zuckerberg to the Newark, NJ school district … Time magazine published a special issue “What Makes a School Great” on September 20th … “Waiting For Superman” premiered September 24th in limited release, hopefully it will come to our neck of the woods when it’s released to a wider audience … And finally, NBC held a weeklong education summit called “Education Nation” in the last week of September, including a slew of broadcasts and live events dedicated to the subject of education reform in this country.
Here at The Arts Room we are aware, as are many parents around the country, that although there are certainly some exceptional schools in our cities and towns, there are far too many mediocre (or worse) schools that are having a detrimental effect on the lives and futures of our children. We are long overdue for a transformation of education in this country, so the buzz being generated by the media coverage of education reform efforts is exciting indeed, and as the national discussion continues we must make sure the best ideas are translated into action before the enthusiasm inevitably wanes and a new cause takes center stage.
We at The Arts Room stand with those who recognize that arts-learning is key to achieving an excellent education. The arts are particularly well-suited to teaching exactly the kinds of creative-thinking skills that top CEO’s are looking for, but our kids are lacking. Moreover, the structures and strategies used in teaching the arts, along with arts content, can be shared with the other classes that make up the school day in creative, interdisciplinary ways, resulting in a considerable improvement in learning (and enthusiasm!). I have seen firsthand the extraordinary things that can happen in a classroom when the teacher takes the time to integrate the arts into the whole curriculum, and countless case studies from around the country confirm my own experiences with arts-integration (if you want to start to learn more about arts-integration, read this and this).
Recently in the Bristol Phoenix (published 9/23/10) it was reported that SAT scores have been steadily falling for the past five years in our school district, even as NECAP (our state standards assessment test) scores have risen steadily. We have been teaching to the test, a practice that may help our schools achieve good marks with the Rhode Island Department of Education, but one that most certainly is not helping our children achieve an excellent education. In response to this discouraging trend, our superintendent has stated that the district is now working “to strengthen the rigor and depth of our content and instruction, to get students to think critically and deeply.”
It has been demonstrated often enough around the country, and here at home, that strong arts-learning and arts-integration programs teach children to think critically and deeply (read this, for example). How, exactly, our teachers and administrators are strengthening our district’s programs has not yet been reported, but we hope to find that arts-learning and arts-integration make up a significant component of the plan. Stay tuned.