The Importance of Art Education

“Art Is Long; Life Is Short”

Common Core curriculum, standardized testing, No Child Left Behind and the Achievement Gap are all intended to ensure that our children are being educated properly.  It should be noted that while all of these are focused on some very critical sets of skills that children need to learn such as math, reading and writing, the Arts are ignored.

Achievement is measured through performance in math and language skills; there are no standardized tests for music, art or drama.  At a time when measurement of a “successful” education becomes narrower and narrower and when educational budgets and classroom time are in turn concentrating more on the “core” subjects, students’ exposure to the Arts is often the victim.  A 2006 survey by the Center on Education Policy discovered that five years after the passing of NCLB, 44% of schools districts in the country had increased time spent on language arts and math while decreasing instruction time in other subjects.  Theater arts for instance have been shown to suffer a 50% cut in budgets over the last year per some studies. 

Benefits To Be Gained

Many parents may view arts as “pretty” and “good to know” but not as essential.  In some school systems, having an arts classroom or studio full of arts supplies, drawing tables, kilns and more have been replaced by “art on a cart,” which is wheeled from classroom to classroom for a weekly short-term burst of creativity.  But the reality is that involvement in the arts benefits children in a myriad number of ways including gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking and verbal skills.

According to Teri Gaberman, Greenwich Education Group’s (GEG) Academic Services Director for Grades K-8, "the arts help to develop the whole child.  There's a multitude of research to support the claim that instruction in the arts has a positive impact on everything from brain development and test scores to study habits and a student's overall interest in school.”  She cites U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan who noted that the arts "play a significant role in children's development and learning process."

Numerous studies have shown that exposure to the arts lead to higher scores on standardized testing and greater levels of understanding in other subjects such as languages, history, geography and science.  But exposure to arts goes beyond testing.  It has been shown to help reduce student dropout, raise student attendance, develop better teamwork, increase student creativity and help to better prepare students for the workplace.  Arts may reach students that normally cannot be reached through traditional classroom means.

Improves Communication

Theater Arts can also generate benefits that impact all aspects of a student’s life.  The range of emotions, cultures, ages, social status, challenges met or unmet, all will lead to the student-actor being more aware, sensitive, accepting and tolerant in real life.  The mere process of putting on a play requires skills in teamwork behind on stage and behind stage.  While every student may dread the need to rehearse and memorize their lines, it will instill in them greater self-confidence and teach them public speaking skills.  Learning to communicate and over-coming stage fright will have enormous impact on a child’s self-esteem.

Gaberman, a former middle school drama theater producer and education professional at an arts integrated magnet school, highlights the profound changes she witnessed in students exposed to the arts; “I’ve seen it develop self-confidence, teamwork, self-expression and motivation; all of which carries over into their classroom performance."

Through Theater Arts children can express their emotions in a healthy and creative way.  All parents will understand the high stress of teenage years.  Acting allows for self-expression, something that all teenagers struggle with.  Among troubled youth for instance, significant benefits can be seen, as it is a way of expressing anger or angst.  Improvisational theater can bring its own unique set of benefits.  The actor must maintain focus on what is happening around them, to listen and respond and then pass on a thought to another actor, to learn how to build upon an idea and how to interact with others.  The concept forces one to react quickly and think on their feet and to deal with stress but in a positive environment.

Cultivating Life Skills

When asked about the essential skills the U.S. workforce must have to compete in a global economy there is little doubt that having advanced skills in math, technology and science come close to the top of the needs list.  But they are intermingled with softer skills such as creativity, cross-cultural sensitivity, composure, public speaking and effective presentation of ideas. All of these latter skills come about through exposure to the arts and theater art specifically. 

Learning Beyond The Three R’s

The Arizona Superintendent of Schools, Tom Horne, explains it well; “when you think about the purposes of education, there are three.  We’re preparing kids for jobs.  We’re preparing them to be citizens. And we’re teaching them to be human beings who can enjoy the deeper forms of beauty.  The third is as important as the other two.”  Math, science, technology help students to learn the what and how of life but art help students to learn the whys and then to appreciate, imagine and create in boundless ways.

What is undeniable about art is that it transcends generations; it is passed down through the ages and explains peoples’ values and culture through its painting, sculpture, literature, music, dance and drama.  Art leaps across geographic boundaries, differences in languages and is not bound by time.  Hippocrates said, “Life is short, and art long”, but maybe he should have added that because of art, a short life is also one that is much more fulfilling and beautiful to live.

As an example of the enrichment available through a leading edge Theater Arts program, Gaberman has announced GEG’s partnership with the Northeast Children's Theater Company “in offering students the opportunity to participate in a summer enrichment program entitled, Centerstage Adventures which is based in the dramatic arts and is focused on the fundamentals of acting, advanced acting and performance.  The program will include incredible intensives from an exclusive range of New York City special guests, ranging from puppeteer designers and builders to stage combat experts and musical theater songwriters.”

 

Trends in Higher Education

By Victoria C. Newman, Founder & Executive Director, Greenwich Education Group and Co-Director of Day and Boarding School Advisory Services

At a recent Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) conference in Indianapolis, Jeff Selingo, contributing editor forThe Chronicle of Higher Education, argued compellingly that America’s higher education system is broken. The hyper-competitive marketplace that our children now face places an ever-increasing importance on obtaining a higher education.  Employers need a workforce that combines a solid academic foundation with communication skills, interpersonal capabilities, such as team-building and cultural awareness, and the ability to adapt to changing demands.  Selingo questions whether college is in fact the only option to obtain these needed skills as well as whether college itself is the best choice for many high school graduates.

It has been repeatedly shown through economic studies that the wages of a college graduate are greater than those of a high school graduate.  Thirty years ago, a college graduate made 40 percent more than a high school graduate, but now the gap is about 83 percent. Even a cashier with a college degree makes more than a cashier without one. Yet many specialists in higher education are questioning whether the traditional process of going straight to college after high school is the appropriate route for all students.

Selingo is also the author of College (Un)Bound, a 2013 book that asserts that not all 18 year-olds are ready for a four-year college.  A lack of alternatives such as national service, apprenticeships and other gap year options often results in college becoming an automatic “next step.” Selingo believes that many students need to consider other choices, such as two-year technical degrees, which some studies show can result in higher initial wages for its graduates than for those receiving bachelor’s degrees.

Highlighting what he calls “unready students” who often fail to complete college, Selingo points out that these educational victims are left with high debt levels and no degrees;  “Simply pushing more people through colleges and universities is not the definition of a successful higher-education system in the minds of most experts.”

Acknowledging that the future economy needs more Americans with a high-quality education after high school, Selingo also notes that training comes in many forms and is often provided by employers rather than by educational institutes.  “There is certainly a place for purely practical training programs within our broader goal to be first in the world in an educated work force, but the question increasingly should be whether all of those programs need to be housed at expensive four-year colleges.” 

The higher education process is going through significant changes.  The way students now acquire information, toggling between devices and sources and working collaboratively, has transformed the learning process.  “The question now is how to build an educational system around this new information ecosystem,” states Selingo. He concludes that a new diverse higher-education system is needed: one that is flexible, responsive, and accountable; one that is not wedded to a one-size-fits all approach, but instead encompasses face-to-face, hybrid, and online-only educational options.

This does not mean that there isn’t a role for what has historically been called a “liberal arts education.”  Often disparaged for its lack of focus on specific professional skills, such an education may impart in a student the qualitative capabilities sought after in the real-world economy.  Selingo himself notes, “Top business executives in various surveys and interviews say they like workers who are creative, adaptable, and have the ability to communicate and think critically -- all telltale signs of a classic liberal arts education.”

At the forefront, explains Selingo, is the trait of “adaptability,“ which he feels is one of the most important skills our college graduates can possess. In fact, he recently referred to a poll of LinkedIn influencers, where adaptability ranked as the most important trait that a 22 year-old could possess as they enter the workforce, above people skills, resilience and knowledge. They need to be able to “learn, unlearn, and relearn” vital information in order to be competitive in today’s job market.

Listed below are four of the websites he recommends that college graduates can use to assist them in mastering these crucial skills.

1. http://www.enstituteu.com/

The first national apprenticeship program for 21st century careers in business, technology, design and entrepreneurship.

2. http://ventureforamerica.org/

A program that helps to build the skills and network you need to become a successful entrepreneur.

https://generalassemb.ly/online

Learn online from top practitioners of programming, business and design.

4. https://www.edx.org

EdX offers free online classes and MOOCs from the world's best universities. Topics include business, computer science, finance, history, literature, math and more.

As another school year is nearing its end and high school students will be entering the next phase of life – the college years.  Selingo’s views about both the effectiveness of a college education in preparing oneself for future work and whether it is actually the appropriate next step for many are questions that both parents and students should pause and consider.  Questioning assumptions is a skill that is learned in many college courses. Perhaps it is time for educators and society to start questioning the theories regarding what constitutes higher education.  

Read, Write, Code: The New Basics

Laptops, tablets and smartphones are ubiquitous accessories to today’s students.  Attempting to survive almost any level of school, from elementary to post-graduate, without access to technology, is an unfathomable concept. It is also widely understood that technology will be the engine of growth for the global economy and that the United States is the source of many of the world’s technological advances.  So why is the U.S. educational establishment struggling with a topic as basic as teaching children to write program code?

Low AP Enrollment & Exams

Despite technology’s pervasiveness in our world, most schools and districts do not consider computer science a core subject. This lack of focus on the subject is evidenced by enrollment in Advanced Placement (AP) courses in computer science.  According to the College Board, last year only 30,000 students took the AP computer science exam while 270,000 took the AP calculus exam and 200,000 took AP biology exams.  In addition, girls accounted for approximately 19% of exam takers, Hispanic students 8.1% and African-American 3.7%. At a time when achievement gap and future employability are hot topics, school districts should not only be teaching basic computer skills but providing resources for students to master technology.

A Top Paying College Degree

Other countries seem to have come to grips with the importance of teaching computer science to students in pre-college years.  Great Britain has recently introduced a new technology curriculum that starts at age 5.  Estonia, a small but highly computer literate country, is teaching first graders how to create their own computer programs.  A recent New York Times article (March, 2014)summed it up clearly, stating “such knowledge, the advocates say, is important not only to individual students’ future career prospects, but also for their countries’ economic competitiveness and the technology industry’s ability to find qualified workers.” According to Forbes.com, the college degree with the highest average salary is from Carnegie Mellon, School of Computer Science at $84,400.

Expanding Participation In Computer Science

The gap in computer science education has not gone unnoticed.  Code.org, a foundation backed by such technology luminaries as Bill Gates of Microsoft and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, is looking to push school districts to teach coding to children as early as possible.  Their vision is that “every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science.” Hadi Partovi, one of its founders, explains the accessibility to such opportunities “needs to start in elementary school where classrooms are split equally with students of all backgrounds, and the playing field is still relatively level.”

One independent school that has adopted this model is the Beacon School in Stamford, which integrates computer programming and robotics classes beginning in the elementary grades, to ensure that students develop technological literacy from an early age. "Many parents and educational professionals assume that today's digital natives don't need direct instruction in technology," says Head of School Meredith Hafer. "However, just because they know how to use the latest social media platform or crack the password on your iPad does not mean that they have the skills to participate in the next phase of the information revolution. If we want to prepare our students to drive 21st century innovation, this has to be a priority."

Some school districts such as Chicago and New York are starting to roll out programs aimed at teaching rudimentary computer skills to students, but the national coverage is still in its infancy stage.  Most districts must construct their curriculum from scratch.  Advocates argue between the need to teach concepts versus the actual writing of programs as the appropriate right steps.  In addition, there are districts who are debating whether coding should be considered a foreign language rather than math, science or business or something entirely different. In fact, in 28 out of 50 states, computer science can’t count towards high school graduation requirements in math or science.

CS in Greenwich

Greenwich High School teacher Matt Myers is also the CEO of Slates & Tablets, a company that he co-founded with his brother with “the goal of filling the gaps he saw in classroom technology.” Recently Myers was recognized as one of GOOD Magazine’s Ten Most Innovative Teachers in America, as well as one of “20 to Watch in Ed Tech” from the National School Boards Association. He’s also responsible for the curriculum of Greenwich High School’s new computer science program, which he teaches at the school.

“The computer science course of study at Greenwich High School looks to provide three levels of instruction to students,” explains Myers.  His suggested approach includes an introductory level to attract students of all backgrounds and genders to the study of the subject followed by an intermediate level, to provide some real-world technical training on the fundamentals of programming in the world's most common languages.  The final step is an advanced level, to give students the opportunity and guidance to design and build their own original concepts and product ideas. “We plan on doing this through a mix of classroom instruction, business education, technical training, and interaction with experts from the tech world,” he explains. “We've accomplished that in spades this year, the last piece as evidenced by the first GHS Technology Expo, featuring guest presentations by Greenwich locals Geoff Massam and Howard Morgan.”

Drag, Drop, Repeat Loops

While the educational world works through the issue of how to best teach computer science, the focus on coding as a basic skill has nevertheless been intensified. Code.org recently launched “An Hour of Coding,” a self-directed tutorial intended to introduce coding to as many people as possible.  Celebrities as diverse as actor Ashton Kucher, singer Will.i.am and NBA star Chris Bosh are admitted coders. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently stated that he is teaching his kids to code while also learning himself.  While no federal mandate to teach coding is in the works, the fact that the most senior educator in the country recognizes its importance is a sign that progress is happening.

With education policy determined at the state level, it is unlikely that a unified, cohesive approach to teaching computer science will be seen in the near future.  But, to quote from a recent article published on the White House website, “advances in computer science, which includes problem solving, creativity, abstraction and programing, have transformed the way we live, work, learn, play and communicate; they are actually changing the world.” Beyond the empowerment that accompanies computational skills, “computer skills also lead to great jobs.”

The ability to code will become a skill as basic as reading and writing.  Beacon School teacher Stephen Muffati may have a simple answer, but one that is powerful and profound; “the odd thing about programming is that it is something that you have to want to learn.”  It is a sentiment that may be applicable to many subjects but given our technologically dependent world, applying it to programming and coding currently makes our country’s future dependent on a large group of self-learners.  It may make more sense, however, for the educational establishment to take on the challenge of how to teach computer science and coding as a fundamental part of our children’s education, and to instill the appetite to learn about it as early as possible.