Arts “Conveners” See A Threat

Thomas MacMIllan PhotoQuestion: What do today’s students need?
a) More preparation for standardized tests.
b) More time to sing and paint.
c) Both.
d) No more robotic multiple-choice questions.

When 200 artists and arts boosters gathered at a “convening” to ponder the future of the arts in New Haven, no one gave them standardized tests.

But in both a formal panel discussion and then in break-out questions, they talked about standardized tests.

No one offered applause.

Rather, they identified what they consider an enemy to enabling kids to learn about the arts and develop into well-rounded adults: those standardized tests that are dominating more and more classroom time in the era of school reform.

The occasion was an event entitled “Convening: for the arts to build a stronger community.” The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven sponsored the forum Thursday afternoon at Congregation Mishkan Israel (785 Ridge Rd. in Hamden).

The idea wasn’t to “preach to the converted” about the importance of the arts, Foundation CEO William Ginsberg told the 150 movers and shakers who attended. The idea was to figure out how to strengthen the arts.

In both a formal panel discussion, and then in smaller breakout discussions, speakers wrestled with, among other questions, how to boost the arts in the schools, a key part of ensuring the arts’ future.

At a time of both government budget cuts and a drive to use the results of high-stakes standardized tests to judge the performance of teachers and students, the fear was that arts are being squeezed out.

To follow what was said about that—and about other issues, including how to figure out the new arts “placemaking” lingo on which the Malloy Administration plans to base cultural grant-making in Connecticut—check out the live-blog discussion that took place during the event. It’s in the “Cover-it-Live” box below in this story. Reporters from the Independent, New Haven Register, and WNPR joined two high-school students from the Educational Center for the Arts (an afternoon regional public high school program), Charlotte Beach and John Branch, in conducting that online discussion. (That discussion is now closed, but you can continue it by posting comments in the regular comments section at the bottom of this story.)

Long Wharf Theater Managing Director Joshua Borenstein tackled the question of testing first in the formal panel discussion, which WQUN’s Ray Andrewsen moderated.

He noted how people seeking to get more arts programming in the schools butt up against “this discrepancy between this need to get your students to perform on CMTs … versus the 21st century skills the arts teaches… ” like public speaking. He noted that those arts-related skills aren’t necessarily “testable.”

“Could there be such thing as tests that evaluate creativity?” ECA senior Beach asked in the simultaneous live-blog discussion. “In elementary and middle school in the TAG (Talented and Gifted) Program I was part of once a week we took tests that accessed our imaginations, not how well we knew our times tables.”

The second half of the two-hour event involved a half-dozen small group discussions. In one just session, moderator Leon Bailey of the Community Foundation asked people what they had drawn from the formal panel.

A woman from West Haven picked up on the testing question.

“I have an 11-year-old in the public schools. I really dislike their teaching toward the tests. Everything we do as adults is creative,” she said. “Kids get bored [from] teaching to the test. My son learns more from the History Channel these days” than from classroom test-drilling.

As another session began, reported the Register’s Angi Carter, “discussion move[d] to standardized testing and school budgets: feeling is that arts programs are early on the chopping block in tough budget times. … Arts educators feel they are competing with time allotted for other subjects because of standardized testing.”

Following is the detailed live-blog play-by-play and color account of the event. Below that is the regular comments section. (A correction for the discussion below, from the ECA bloggers: “As it turns out, our facts regarding districts and tuition weren’t quite up to date—the Connecticut State Department of Education changed their policy to insure that, starting this school year, all students attending part-time magnet schools have tuition covered by their local Board of Education. As a result, all 23 school districts that send students to ACES ECA now pay the full cost for their students to attend.”)

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posted by: Josiah Brown on March 29, 2012  7:14pm

Thanks for coverage of this timely event.

Among New Haven Public Schools, Betsy Ross, Co-op, Davis, Edgewood, John Daniels, and Worthington Hooker are examples of those with significant programs in the arts—which should be part of every child’s educational opportunities.  There are many committed teachers of the arts across the district.  The BOOST partnership between the NHPS and the United Way, along with various collaborating nonprofits, is intended to expand access to after-school and other services, including in the arts.

Many Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute seminars over the years have responded to New Haven teachers’ requests for opportunities to develop their learning and teaching of the arts, history, languages, and reading and writing (as well as the sciences and math). 

In 2012, Tim Barringer—who is Paul Mellon Professor of the History of Art—is a leading a seminar on “Understanding History and Society through Visual Art, 1776-1914.”

posted by: Josiah Brown on March 29, 2012  7:35pm

Janice Carlisle of the Yale English faculty led seminars in 2011 and 2009 that drew upon visual art to support New Haven teachers’ development of their students’ writing skills.  The seminars resulted in volumes of curriculum units on “Writing with Words and Images” and on “Writing, Knowing, Seeing”:

Examples of units Fellows prepared:

*Ekaterina Barkhatova of Troup, with an interdisciplinary writing unit for bilingual students
*Carol Boynton of Edgewood on “writing connections” for students in the early grades
*Mary Lou Narowski of Martinez on using art to promote speaking and writing skills for ESL students
*Deirdre Prisco of Edgewood, using “visual journaling to build elaboration skills in writing”
*Tara Stevens of Davis, with a unit combining film, photography, civil rights history, and language arts
*Leszek Ward of New Haven Academy, on Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Deirdre Prisco, in a seminar that John Lewis Gaddis led on “What History Teaches,” also developed a unit on the use of artifacts for teaching social studies in the elementary grades

Regarding intersections among art, math, and science:

William Stewart of the School of Medicine faculty has led four Institute seminars, including one this year.  His seminar in 2006 addressed, “Anatomy and Art: How We See and Understand”—in 2008, “Depicting and Analyzing Data: Enriching Science and Math Curricula through Graphical Displays and Mapping.”

Specific curriculum units that Fellows developed include the following:

*Justin Boucher of Career H.S., on teaching neuroanatomy through schematic diagrams
*Wendy Decter of Career, a teacher of biology/anatomy
*Marisa Ferrarese Asarisi of Betsy Ross, a middle-school teacher of math and science
*Beth Klingher of Worthington Hooker, a math teacher, on “the power of graphical display”
*Nick Perrone of Barnard, on “data analysis of physical activity in school”

posted by: ARTE INC. on April 2, 2012  2:59pm

We are sad we were not able to attend this convening. 

Arte has been conducting After School Arts Programs in New Haven Public Schools for six years. We currently run programs in four different schools.  All of our programs combine arts with educational topics.  These have been amazingly successful programs with concrete results.  Surveys of students, parents, teachers and school administrators are returned with incredibly high marks.  There is no doubt that arts engagement nurtures the cognitive and social development of these children.

Arte’s new pilot program SLATE Socialization & Learning Adventures Through Education.  Expose inner-city students to life and social skills they are not obtaining elsewhere.  These impactful lessons are combined with arts and cultural awareness and are also showing tremendous results. 

We cannot let programs like these lose their momentum