Thursday, January 13, 2011

Australia: Academic paints a picture of arts as a priority in classrooms

The recommendations below seem overblown but there is no doubt that our cultural heritage should be taught: Poetry, drama, literature generally. Yet precisely that has been largely erased from school curricula in recent decades. I doubt that all children should be taught specialized skills such as painting, potting, sculpture and dance, however. I think that can safely be left to specialized courses for those with a particular inclination in that direction

The arts should be embedded in the teaching of all subjects as a way of cultivating creativity and imagination in schoolchildren, according to a paper published yesterday by the Australian Council for Educational Research.

The paper, by the University of Sydney academic Robyn Ewing, highlights international research that shows students who are exposed to the arts achieve better academic results, are more engaged at school and less likely to leave early, and have better self-esteem than students who do not have access to the arts.

Professor Ewing said integrating the arts with other disciplines had the potential to engage students who were unmotivated by traditional forms of learning, lifting their performance in other subjects, such as science and maths.

She expressed concern that the publication of results from national literacy and numeracy tests was contributing to a neglect of other kinds of learning.

"If we don't empower kids to think creatively and to be imaginative and also to see things from a range of different perspectives, which is what the arts do, we're selling them short in a world in which actual knowledge is changing so rapidly," she said.

The review of hundreds of Australian and international research studies comes as the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority develops a national curriculum for the arts.

Under the proposed curriculum, due to be published next year, the arts, including dance, drama, media arts, music and visual arts, would be mandated for every student from the first year of school to year 8 for a minimum of two hours a week.

Professor Ewing said policymakers needed to change the way they thought about the arts, and treat it as a priority rather than an add-on.

She said governments had not matched their rhetorical commitment to the arts with resources for arts education and teacher professional development.

"In lots of schools the arts is on the fringe, but it could be so powerful if it was embedded."

She said children from affluent families were more likely to be touched by the arts through visits to museums and art galleries, and through theatre and concert performances, and their parents were more often able to pay for art and music lessons. Yet children living in poverty or who were vulnerable or at risk often stood to benefit the most from the arts.


Beware Bipartisan School Reform

If everybody on the Hill is happy, Americans probably shouldn't be

We are in for a season of grisly partisan bloodletting—or at least some pretty fierce jello wrestling—over health care, budgets, and pork, if the coverage of the opening days of the 112th Congress is any indication of things to come. But when it comes to education policy, politicians and pundits are inexplicably full of sunny optimism.

Patient zero in this epidemic of cheer is Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post this week expressing the hope that people on both sides of the aisle will “do something together for our children that will build America's future, strengthen our economy and reflect well on us all.”

Set off by Duncan, the rest of the political news pack followed with stories about how this year’s anticipated rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—re-christened No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001—is going to be totally bipartisan and awesome. But any touted bipartisan action by Congress should be regarded with suspicion—the more touting there is, the more suspicion is merited—and education reauthorization is no exception.

It’s true that Democrats and Republicans sound more alike than they ever have on education policy. Reform is no longer a dirty word for Democrats, for instance. And Republicans want to spend more on teachers, by and large. Duncan highlights one point of rhetorical unity in his op-ed: “On many issues, Democrats and Republicans agree, starting with the fact that no one likes how NCLB labels schools as failures.” The word failure is uncomfortable for the adults involved in education policy. In fact, it’s a word that rarely sneaks into politics at all. The fact that No Child Left Behind set things up so that a government venture of any kind would wind up being forced to label itself a failure is pretty remarkable.

But agreeing to stop using hurtful words in cases where schools “are making broad gains” won’t do a darned thing to improve messed up schools. If big chunks of a school population still can’t read or do math anywhere near grade level after years and years of second chances—the criteria to become a failing school under NCLB—that school actually is failing. Even if the scores were worse last year.

And agreement on how to talk about fixing schools is a far cry from actually fixing schools. To listen to politicians talk, everyone is up for more flexibility and more accountability, but when it comes to concrete proposals, the two sides are still miles apart. Even in his kumbaya op-ed, Duncan slips in mention of his opposition to “federally dictated tutoring or school-transfer options.” Though the jargon obscures what he’s talking about, it’s school choice. Those options are the heart of No Child Left Behind reforms. All the now-unfashionable monitoring and testing requirements instituted in that law were geared toward figuring out which kids deserve the backing of the feds when they’re ready to bail out of their sub-par schools and go looking for something better inside (or outside) the traditional public school system.

The underlying political dynamics don’t suggest that Congress is ripe for big bipartisan bear hugs, either. The newly Republican-dominated House isn’t going to like the idea of Obama taking credit for “fixing the schools” if a bill passes. And teachers unions remain a force to be reckoned with. They have had a rough year; nobody likes to be depicted as the anti-Superman in theaters nationwide. The National Education Association gave Democrats $2 million in the 2010 cycle, and the American Federation of Teachers gave $2.6 million (compared with a comical $8,000 to Republicans). They expect a return on that money, and the kind of returns they’re looking for are not bipartisan agreements about the virtues of transparency.

With both sides talking nice, but staking out clear territory, it's unlikely that education reauthorization will be a bipartisan love fest. Still, as Teach for America VP and ex-Mr. Michelle Rhee Kevin Huffman points out in U.S. News and World Report, “the relevant committee chairs and ranking members (Tom Harkin and Michael Enzi in the Senate, John Kline and George Miller in the House) are experienced pros” and known moderates. A bunch of high-ranking moderates in education slots simply means that there's a slightly increased chance something might wind up on the president’s desk. It tells us nothing about whether that something will be any good.

K-12 education in the United State is in a bad way. If education reauthorization goes smoothly, that will be a clear sign that no one decided it was worth it to rock the boat, even if everyone involved says that they are opposed to the status quo.

No matter what happens with education reauthorization in this Congress, a fight over a controversial bill is unlikely to be a clear win for anyone. Education reform is tricky, and even the avid backers of testing and federally-madated choice agree that neither reform has proven to be the silver bullet reformers hoped for in 2001. The proposals on the table in 2011 are just as murky. Which means most legislators—moderate and bipartisan-inclined, or otherwise—will just want to make the issue go away. If they can find a solution that keeps the adults in Washington happy and doesn’t use up too much valuable time on the floors and cloakrooms of Congress, they’ll take it. That’s bipartisanism, and it isn’t the same thing as success.


UK student who threw fire extinguisher from building jailed for 2 years, 8 months

THE British student who threw a fire extinguisher from the top of a London building amid violent student protests against rising college tuition fees was jailed yesterday for two years and eight months.

Edward Woollard, 18, threw an empty fire extinguisher from the roof of the London headquarters of the ruling Conservative Party after protesters stormed the building Nov. 10.

He pleaded guilty to causing violent disorder two weeks later after being caught on camera throwing the extinguisher, which nearly hit police officers below.

Tania Garwood, the mother of Woollard, told The (London) Times on Monday of the moment her son admitted to her that he was caught on camera throwing the fire extinguisher.

Garwood, 37, said her son did a "terrible and awful thing" that he is now paying for.

"What he has done is a terrible and awful thing, which he is paying for now ... I brought up my children to take responsibility for their actions, and he has," she said. "I believe he deserves to be punished -- I just hope it is the right punishment. He is a loving, caring [He didn't care about all the people below him], gentle man. He has got a lot to live for. He has got a lot to learn. I hope he has the chance to continue his education, and it hasn't ruined his life."


No comments: