How to save art classes? High-stakes testing

 Or more succinctly, by destroying creativity via testing…

Sometimes one’s snarkiness can get misconstrued.  That could happen upon reading the first part of today’s N&R column, so let me be clear on this point: high-stakes, standardized testing is doing great harm to the quality of education in our public schools and I think the whole of NCLB and North Carolina’s ABC’s programs are in need of a complete overhaul.  I truly hate what these programs are doing to our schools in their present form.

But, the reality of current testing-based trends in our schools is that we are moving toward teaching only that which can readily be measured by placing little black marks within the correct confines of little circles on slips of paper.  So, to save arts education in our elementary and middle schools we will probably have to destroy the very creativity that the arts should be fostering.   Or, as I say in the column…

“It is a sad state of affairs within public education when what we value is only that which can be regurgitated onto standardized tests, but that is where we are headed.  So it looks like the best long-term strategy to keep the arts in its rightful place in our schools is to test the hell out it.”

Speaking of tearing something down in order to save it; the second part of my column concerns itself with War Memorial Stadium. 

I have been involved in some background meetings to see if the demolition of large parts of the stadium can be put on hold now that some funding is in place.  I’ll keep you posted as this progresses.  Promise.

Here’s the column…

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Those who understand the adage “what gets measured, gets done” know instinctively why arts education is fast becoming a low priority in our public schools.

Our school board is in a head-to-head standoff with a group of people who understand and value the importance of providing all of our public school students with more and better arts education in Guilford County.

During meeting after meeting, local art advocates, loosely organized under the banner of Save GCS Arts, have filled the Board of Education’s “speakers from the floor” segments. Redundantly but importantly they are urging our elected representatives to, at a minimum, restore the amount of time and resources for arts instruction that was very quietly removed from our elementary and middle schools this academic year.

While it appears that a majority of our school board members are sympathetic, they insist they are just trying to do the best they can within the confines of budgetary and regulatory pressures. In other words, the money’s not there. But more to the point, all of those federally and state-mandated test scores must be considered, none of which tests students on eighth notes, complementary colors, pirouettes or their knowledge of how jazz originated.

The government doesn’t mandate tests that measure a student’s knowledge of the arts, so arts education is not getting done in the lower grades.

Our school board is quick to urge the throngs of art advocates to descend upon meetings of our county Board of Commissioners with their concerns. After all, they are the body holding the purse strings for funding such non-tested “frills” as arts education.  (Editing note about my intended snarkiness: I placed quotation marks around ‘frills’ for a reason… it is NOT a frill)

I agree that such a refocusing of efforts should occur. But over the long haul it won’t make much difference until North Carolina and the federal government decide that the thing to do is develop yet another test to make sure everyone is held accountable.

It is a sad state of affairs within public education when what we value is only that which can be regurgitated onto standardized tests, but that is where we are headed.

So it looks like the best long-term strategy to keep the arts in its rightful place in our schools is to test the hell out it.

War Memorial update

For those who are paying attention to the fate of War Memorial Stadium, I have some good news and I have some bad news.

After Greensboro’s voters rejected a bond in 2006 to renovate and update much of the old stadium, our previous City Council approved a plan that allocates $1.1 million to the property. This money is being made available through what is known as a two-thirds bond, which the city issues regularly and which does not require voter approval. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that part of that money will be paid to some company that owns a big wrecking ball because nearly two-thirds of the stadium’s original footprint is slated to be demolished under the current “renovation” plan. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Sitting on our newly minted City Council are three former county commissioners who possibly believed the “no one’s talking about tearing it down” mantra that kept emanating from those pushing for a new downtown stadium back in 2003. If they’ll join with the two other staunch War Memorial Stadium advocates on our council, Mayor Yvonne Johnson and Dr. Goldie Wells, perhaps the wrecking ball can be forestalled long enough to explore some options.

David Hoggard is a free-lance columnist for the News & Record and a local blogger at http://www.hoggsblog.com.

This entry was posted in Guilford County Schools, Life in General, My N&R columns, War Memorial Stadium. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

5 Comments

  1. Posted January 16, 2008 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    David, thank you so much for the article! I do think the bit about budgetary concerns and the desire by the BOE Chairman that we go away and bother the county commissioners is off the mark.  I’m not sure why he keeps trying to frame the music and arts issue as budgetary.  GCS staffers and consultants have repeatedly said this is more of a curriculum issue than a budgetary one.

    In fact, the instructional time cuts in music and art at the elementary level actually cost the system more money than leaving music and the arts in place.  The reason is the art, music and PE time reductions at the elementary level were made to provide room in the schedule to add foreign language twice a week.  That required the hiring of additional language teachers. Hence these cuts actually cost the system money.  (As Dr. Grier pointed out, no music, art or PE teachers were fired.)

    Similarly, there was no reported cost savings from the reduction of elective time at the middle school level.

    The only cost savings achieved at the expense of the arts was the relatively insignificant cost of having a cultural arts coordinator downtown.  Surely no one is seriously suggesting that we lobby the commissioners over such a tiny savings when the reduction in music and art instructional time actually increased costs by much greater amounts through the addition of so many foreign language instructors.

    (BTW, we completely support the addition of foreign language provided it is not at the loss of instructional time in art and music. Prior to this year, art and music classes were already at the bare minimum levels for effective instruction.  In fact, at current class time levels, music and art instructors at the affected elementary schools in many cases have only 10 minutes of instructional time all year to devote to each of the objectives set forth by the NC Department of Public Instruction standard course of study.)

    So, while I reluctantly agree with you that testing in the arts may be a necessary evil, the suggested shift in focus to the county commissioners is unwarranted when the reduction in instructional time for music and art actually increased costs.

    Thank you again for addressing this issue.  We can use all the help we can get!

  2. Jeff Belton
    Posted January 16, 2008 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Hello David,
    Your condemnation of testing, NCLB and ABC is dead on target. I am anguished by the choices we as a BOE are confined to by these programs. We find ourselves in positions where what seems to best in addressing the demands of the tests. That is, continuous improvement by all students, towards 100% proficiency by 2014. That 100% goal is not realistically attainable. I do not believe it is possible for all students to be 100% proficient at all subjects. Humans are not perfect.

    perfect

  3. Jeff Belton
    Posted January 16, 2008 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    dead on target. I am anguished by the choices we as a BOE are confined to by these programs. We find ourselves in positions where what seems to be best in addressing the demands of the tests. That is, continuous improvement by all students, towards 100% proficiency by 2014. That 100% goal is not realistically attainable. I do not believe it is possible for all students to be 100% proficient at all subjects. Humans are not perfect. Given that I do not believe this goal to be valid, how do I justify decisions which address the demands of the tests, while giving away the souls of our students. I wish I could just write the check to the GCS and tell the Departent of Education and the N.C. Department of Public
    Instuction to politely go away.
    Sorry, I’m having a little trouble here.
    As for Art and Music time. I will vote for fully restoring instruction time for these subjects. I have heard three other BOE members voice the same sentiment. I thought that we were adding Spanish as an option, not taking time away from other electives. I think we have too much Spanish and not enough global language choices as it is now. I have no doubt that the BOE will restore Music and Art class time in the new year. Sorry about my struggles with the Blog format. Yours, Jeff (hope all is well with you and yours)

    confidence that s

    perfect

  4. Posted January 16, 2008 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Jeff, thank you so much for your encouraging words! I certainly hope you’re right about the arts situation.

    As for the delicate balancing act board members have to perform, particularly during this era of high-stakes testing, my hat is off to you. FWIW it is encouraging to know that there are conscientious people like you out there who have an understanding of the bigger educational picture.

  5. Posted January 17, 2008 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Mr. Belton, you’re a brave man. I appreciate your candor and leadership on this subject.

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