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Written on September 30th, 2012 , Arts in Community, Arts-in-Ed Tags: ,

“Art is the Queen of all sciences, communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.” -Leonardo DaVinci

My regular reader (hi, mom) knows that I try to alternate between ‘humorous but reflective’ and ‘informative and reflective’, so this week’s is about the deep significance and measurable value of the arts in student education. If this is not your thing, fine, reread the fun Zombie one from last week BUT know that by any definition of ‘Youth at Risk’, the percentage of those who graduate from high school is doubled—doubled!– when those students are coming from an arts-rich school environment.

At-risk students in arts-rich school environments also get better grades, have better attendance, are more likely to take upper-level classes and to succeed in them…. and on, and on, and on (more research here . Dr. Donna DeSiato, Superintendent of East Syracuse Minoa Central School District is one of the administrators who has taken the STEM initiative (Science Technology English Math) and made it STEAM, using the Arts as “the glue” and the vehicle for meta-thinking to connect the the other curricular components…. one of the few.

Despite what we know empirically, statistically, and neuro-biologically, the arts as a modality for learning and a component of a learning environment are in greater jeopardy than ever before. New requirements are in place in many states (as the forefront of a national initiative) by which I teacher is fired as being “ineffective” if students do not achieve enough between pre and post unit (not year) assessments. Sounds reasonable…until you realize that the exams cannot be designed and administered by the same teacher, nor evaluated for every unit and for every child. So if your student population is at all transient, as it is for schools near military bases, you must re-administer a NEW test each time you have a new student; also, if your class is inclusive of children with learning or behavioral or test-taking challenges, your teaching skills are not necessarily reflected in the students’ ‘fill in the circle’ testing; finally, if you are in a small school and are the ONLY teacher for that grade or subject (like the arts), someone untrained in your subject area must create and/or administer and/or evaluate the pre and post tests….for every unit.

There is now a new mountain of paperwork replacing student-focused time and the challenges posed by assessing subjects that are not Language, Mathematics or Science (some interesting things being said in Canada over the last few years including L. Volante in “Educational quality and accountability in Ontario” and recent twitter arguments about the new National Ed guy).

The most tragic effects, however, are on the students themselves. Below are excerpts from a Washington Post blog by Valerie Strauss (, and in it she quotes Carol Burris:

AIR, in its BETA report, shows how as the percentage of students with disabilities and students of poverty in a class or school increases, the average teacher or principal growth score decreases….

Likewise, in the model used this year, teachers who have students whose prior test scores were higher were advantaged, while teachers whose students have lower prior achievement were disadvantaged. This phenomenon, known as peer effects, has been observed in the literature since the 1980s. There is no control for peer effects in the model. We will see patterns of low scores for teachers of disadvantaged students. Over time, the students who need the best teachers and principals will see them leave their schools in order to escape the ‘ineffective’ label…

[Some] principals remarked that teachers who received poor ratings were teacher often praised by students and parents alike. Some principals stated that they would change their teacher’s assignment next year and assign them less needy students so that they could protect these excellent teachers from the ineffective rating. The unintended consequences to students are beginning.

Poverty matters. It does not seal the fate of a child, but if we are to overcome the disadvantages that it brings, we must level the playing field by providing effective supports to poor students and the teachers who serve them. The “no excuses” philosophy which seeks to blame teachers for the burden our entire society must bear is a cold and shameful response to our most disadvantaged students. The waste of billions of taxpayer dollars on testing, test security, test shredding, intrusive data systems and test-score teaching ratings is a violation of the public trust.”

I close with this quotation of Henry Miller: The arts teach nothing…except the significance of life.

Other advocacy links:


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    Kate Olena commented

    I think STEM is even more lacking an acronym: Science Technology Engineering and Math. Not English. The reason it should be STEAM is because the sciences without the arts lacks innovation and creativity. We can’t blaze new trails if we have no vision. The arts teach students to imagine the unseen, the as yet unachieved, the possible impossible.

    October 3, 2012 at 8:07 pm
      Holly Adams commented

      Excellent point, Kate, and thank you for the correction–I must have been HOPING the “E” stood for English. There are some local schools that have reclaimed the “E” for English, but they are elementary schools.

      October 3, 2012 at 9:36 pm