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Appendix I


Practical Considerations In Moving Towards Schools as Arts Integrated Learning Organizations

 

For the arts to be accepted as full-fledged partners in the educational enterprise, stakeholders-parents, teachers, administrators, child service providers, as well as the business and professional community, must first consider the framework within which they fit. Tony Wagner, President of the Institute for Responsive Education in Boston observes,

As much as I agree with what you write about the virtues of an integrated arts approach, I think it's an uphill "sell"-especially when it comes to secondary schools-in these times. I find that incorporating arts education into a framework that calls for reinvention of education for four goals: 1) new workplace competencies; 2) citizenship; 3) lifelong learning; and 4) personal growth and health a useful strategy.

The reinvention process should start with community dialogue on a number of key issues, which include:

 

  • Purpose of school
  • How children learn
  • School as learning organization for teachers and students
  • Coherent curriculum
  • Teacher professional development
  • How to measure performance Available reform models
  • Costs of reform

The use of community "learning labs," focus groups (small group learning), and town meetings for learning can help coalesce a shared community vision culminating in an agreed-on long-range education plan/performance contract. A two-day long workshop held for the education stakeholders in one New England town produced a list of themes which these voters felt were important for their schools.

 

 

Priority

Theme



Higher

Values and Ethics *

V

Community Service

V

Thematic Learning*

V

Excellence in Education*

V

Technology

V

Students Demonstrate Competencies*

V

Flexibility in Calendar, Hours, Student Progress

V

Class Size

V

Student Accountability and Responsibility*

V

Professional Development*

V

Diversity*

V

Arts*

V

Mentoring*

V

World Language

Lower

Individual Student Centered Programs



Those themes that are starred are reflective of the notion of school as arts integrated learning organization-and particularly as demonstrated by Ron Berger's school in Shutesbury, MA.

A useful model is the process for school improvement being supported by the Panasonic Foundation in Allentown, PA. According to the N.Y. Times,

 

The folks in Allentown (population 110,000 with 23 schools serving 14,500 students) have to agree on what they want to achieve for their students and how they want to achieve it, and then they have to begin questioning everything they are doing to see whether it is abetting or interfering with their stated goals.

The work of the Panasonic Foundation has been to be a catalyst for change and a critical friend. The Foundation's role is not to answer the district's questions but to question the answers that they've always used. Allentown schools now have flexibility in terms of budgets, staff development, curriculum, materials, hiring and assessment. Each school decides when it will open and close and how long the class periods will be. A clanging bell no longer rigidly signals the end of a 50-minute period whether or not students have finished their work. Standardized tests no longer define how much a child has learned. In some Allentown schools, students are grouped in multi-age classrooms and work with the same teachers for several years. The district no longer thinks of itself as a school system but rather as a system of schools. District leadership recognizes the uniqueness of each school community.

A district model for change is being developed by Stanford University's Accelerated Schools project. It is based on the same three principles found in its individual school model, namely, unity of purpose, empowerment coupled with responsibility, and building on strengths. The City of Springfield, MA, with others around the country, is participating in the development of this model. The City of Boston may wish to be included in this process.

A grassroots approach to school improvement is being carried out by the Industrial Areas Foundation (I.A.F.) Organizations of Texas and the Southwest led by Ernie Cortes. Cortes and his organizers have set out to help parents and teachers in a number of Texas communities understand-and shape-the reforms taking hold in their schools. The I.A.F. is actually implementing the idea of the "community as learning organization." Their strategy is simple, teach people how to operate in their own interests and to give them the skills and the tools to do so. This is an approach which could well be a model for Boston.

New approaches to teacher professional development need to be established. The Annenburg Fund suggests that a core group of four to ten teachers and administrators within each school examine, with the aid of portfolios, their own practices over a two year period, while being coached by outside professionals. At the end of that time they qualify as master teachers and are able to help others This approach leaves the teacher in the classroom, to be coached by experts; rather than fed yet more knowledge in 1/2 day off-site seminars. Time is also made available for teachers to visit other classrooms and schools. The new use of teacher time needs to be discussed with the community-as well as the idea of moving from "sage on the stage" to "guide on the side." The requirements of a project-based, "constructivist" classroom demand new skills and techniques from teachers. If we are to ask them to modify what they have traditionally done, we must provide them with the time, and appropriate training.

Al Shanker supports this position. In his March 19th N.Y. Times column, he writes,

If we want to change our schools for the better, we have to change what goes on in the classroom between teachers and students. There is nothing revolutionary about this idea. It is common sense. It is also extremely difficult to do.

Kids are likely to be turned off by math and science if they don't have teachers who know these disciplines and how to guide children in learning them. And the sad truth is that many elementary school teachers do not have the background to do a good job. This is no reflection on their hard work or devotion. They are victims of poor preparation and a system that frustrates their efforts to learn and change while they are on the job instead of supporting these efforts.

In Japan teachers spend nearly half their time working together to improve the lessons they teach and the way they teach them, and there is ample money to support professional development activities. In the U.S., however, teachers seldom have a chance to consult with their peers about their teaching, and little or no money is spent on helping them upgrade their skills and knowledge.

In providing approximately 600 hours of coaching per teacher over a three to four year period, the Chicago group invests between $10-15,000 per teacher. Shanker observes,

This is not flashy stuff. It is basic common sense. It is also tough, demanding and expensive, and it takes time-which may explain why educators often ignore this kind of thing in favor of quick fix schemes.

Ann Lieberman writes,

Because the contemporary school reform movement is concerned with such fundamental issues of schooling as conceptions of knowledge building and teacher learning, today's approach to professional development goes far beyond the technical tinkering that has often characterized inservice training. The process of restructuring schools places demands on the whole organization that make it imperative that individuals redefine their work in relation to the way the entire school works.

Transforming schools into learning organizations, in which people work together to solve problems collectively, is more than a question of inserting a new curriculum or a new program. It also involves thinking through how the content and processes of learning can be redefined in ways that engage students and teachers in the active pursuit of learning goals; it involves a joining of experiential learning and content knowledge. Teaching as telling, the model that has dominated pedagogy and the consequent organization of schooling to date, is being called into question as professional learning for teachers increasingly connects to this reconsidered view of schools.

The change from "teaching" to "learning" is significant because it implies that teacher development opportunities must become integral to the restructuring of schools. This will necessarily involve strategies and mechanisms that are more long-range, that are more concerned with interactions among teachers, and that are often unique to a particular context.

This broader approach moves teachers beyond simply hearing about new ideas or about frameworks for understanding teaching practice to being actively involved in decisions about the substance, the process, and the organizational supports for learning in school-and thence to locating broader support mechanisms, such as networks or partnerships, that provide opportunities for learning and innovation that involve groups outside the school.

Reestablishing the arts in the curriculum, and a move from teaching to learning by teachers go hand in glove. Yet teachers and administrators cannot do all this by themselves. Broad policy support by school boards, as well as understanding of the issues by all community stakeholders, is required. The Boston School Committee's support of the arts is a wonderful start to this process which must now be carried forward by the schools and communities engaging in substantive, meaningful dialogue to develop a long-range education plan/performance contract, including agreement on the allocation of significant resources to teacher professional development.

We have some of the nation's best resources to help in teacher training. The Lesley College master's program in education and the arts is unique, and Harvard's Project Zero is available to help in portfolio assessment. The Waldorf schools, five of which are in Massachusetts, are interested in supplying on-site coaching staff.

We believe the money for professional development should come primarily from within the system itself. At the moment, funds are not aggregated in this way, making it difficult to even know what is available. The school committee must establish a budget tracking system which will identify funds for this purpose. We encourage the adoption of the recently developed Finance Analysis Model available from Coopers & Lybrand. It brings coherence to the subject of school finance, and allows the taxpayer to understand where the money is going.

Additionally, the school committee might consider redesigning the district, so that the central office no longer plays a dysfunctional role but instead supports the idea of school as arts integrated learning organization. The district can set high standards for school performance, and a contextual framework, as has been done in Ontario, Canada. Individual schools will then be given the authority, responsibility-and money-to see that the standards are met. In Alberta, Canada eighty-five percent of the districts' funds go directly to schools in the form of a lump sum for them to use as they see fit. Schools make up their own budgets and develop their own programs to achieve results (see Article, "Redesign, Don't Bypass, School Districts" by Robert Rothman, Education Week , May 17, 1995).

We believe, as does Ernest Boyer and many other leading educators, that the arts represent the best as well as the most cost effective way to transform education. We must stop nibbling at the edges and agree on the purpose of school, desired outcomes, how they are to be assessed, and what a coherent curriculum looks like. Then the appropriate resources in both money and people must be directed at creating a new cultural and organizational context within which both teachers and students can learn and thrive.

The business community, as we move from the command and control model to the learning organization model, is inventing ways to communicate within very large organizations. We believe these methods, tools, and procedures can be adopted for use by communities and school districts. CABC is, at the moment, seeking ways to accomplish this transfer of "change technology."

 

 Copyright © 1997 CABC
Center for Arts in the Basic Curriculum

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