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NCLB Outrages

Federal, state education mandates put crunch on arts

Ohanian Comment: The outrage is that such a group would be necessary but good for them for, in addition to supporting the humanities, publicly opposing NCLB. It would be good to know what members of the business committee have joined Keefe's campaign, but the group doesn't have a website yet. But take a look at this website. Just scroll down past the ads and you will find this letter. And more!

Arts Action Alert

July 19, 2006

Dear Russ,

Do you have an opinion on the No Child Left Behind Act? Are you concerned with the state of arts education in America?

If so, your help is needed to ensure a place for the arts in every child's education.

As you may know, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which authorizes the U.S. Department of Education’s major programs for public schools, is up for reauthorization next year.
Congress has recently begun preliminary hearings and will continue to gather information and feedback through early next year, when an actual drafting process will begin. As Congress starts this process, it is important that arts advocates speak up and make their support for arts education known.

Currently, the Commission on No Child Left Behind, a bipartisan independent commission, is soliciting comments in all areas of K-12 education. The Commission will make formal recommendations to Congress in early 2007. Therefore, this is a key opportunity to offer constructive feedback on the importance of the arts in the next version of NCLB.

To facilitate the collection of these comments, Americans for the Arts has designed a webpage that will send your comments to both the Commission and to your congressional delegation. With your action, we hope the Commission will report to Congress that parents, teachers, students, artists, businesses and advocates around the country are insisting on a stronger place for the arts in NCLB and every child's education.

We encourage you to submit your personal comments about the importance of arts education. Specifically, the Commission needs to hear firsthand accounts of how NCLB has impacted arts education in your public schools. Many parents feel that the arts have been pushed out of the way to make room for a greater emphasis on math and reading – Have you experienced that? Has the number of art teachers or the number of hours devoted to arts education been reduced in your local schools? Please provide your story to the Commission as well as any ideas that you may have to improve the quality of arts education in your schools.

Please visit the Americans for the Arts E-Advocacy Center and send your comments to the Commission on No Child Left Behind. Your action today will help secure an integral place for the arts in schools tomorrow.

What a great idea! We should send similar letters to all arts organizations, manufacturers of musical instruments, etc. we know, showing them that NCLB is killing them as well as our kids!

By JoAnn Knutson

BRIGHTON - When the Colorado Student Assessment Program and No Child Left Behind Act were mandated at the state and federal levels, the intent was to improve reading, writing and math skills in elementary and high school students.

But some believe the government mandated testing and yearly progress required of all public schools in Colorado are threatening the arts and humanities. While a student may be learning to read, write and add better, in some schools he is losing out on the opportunity to experience music and other art forms.

Gerald Keefe, spokesperson for Advocates for a Balanced Education and superintendent of schools for Kit Carson R-1 District, said ABE is a newly organized group of legislatures, educators, business and community leaders banding together to keep the arts and humanities a part of the elementary and high school curriculum.

"The organization's goals are to advocate for the arts and if that means pursuing legislation that will protect the arts then we are prepared to go there," Keefe said.

He said teachers in some public schools are reallocating time and resources from the arts and humanities to the core subjects tested on CSAPs; reading, writing, math and science.

Doris Candelarie, executive director for school effectiveness, said District 27J's mission has always been to preserve the arts in the schools while doing what is needed to meet state and federal requirements.

"We actually have a very strong instrumental music program in the high school," Candelarie said. "Our vocal music program in the high school is weak but we're trying to get it built up again."

She said the middle school hasn't faired quite as well but efforts are being made to rebuild the programs. None of the programs have suffered as a result of the CSAP requirements.

The Brighton High School drama club also received state and national recognition, including three nominations to participate in the Fringe Festival in Scotland.

According to a March Center for Education Policy analysis of the No Child Left Behind impact on school districts across the nation, time spent on social studies in the classroom was reduced by at least 33 percent, science 29 percent and art and music 22 percent.

In Colorado, Keefe said some school districts are moving to what is being called a double-dosing model. Students testing below grade level in math or reading are prevented from taking other courses. Instead they are required to take two courses of the subject areas they are underperforming in. Other school districts are taking the time allotted for subjects not tested in CSAPs and using that time to prepare for and take the CSAP tests.

In 2004 the Colorado General Assembly, through the revision of a Colorado statute, mandated the teaching of civics for all Colorado students. Geography was also included in the graduation requirements of many school districts following a 1988 decision by the University of Colorado to require geography as an entrance requirement.

That left physical education and the arts. The original statute mandating CSAP testing included the areas of art, music, physical education and civics, however, subsequent interpretation, new reform legislation and changes in education policy at the state level have left the arts out of the picture.

Keefe said the CSAP requirements are not the biggest threat to the arts in elementary and high school curriculum. A revision to the admissions policy in 2003 by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education created stricter pre-college curriculum requirements to enter Colorado colleges and universities. The increased course requirements include four years of advanced math and two years of foreign language.

The revision does accommodate other courses by allowing for two Carnegie units of academic electives that include art, music and drama. A Carnegie unit is a one-hour class that meets five days a week for 24 weeks or 120 hours of seat time. The electives can be counted toward college admittance.

Keefe said he is concerned the stricter requirements will effectively squeeze many students out of the arts and other elective programs due to scheduling issues.

He said ABE opposes the No Child Left Behind because the national law is an intrusion into what should be state and local territory.

"If the state and local school districts were able to operate without 'big brother' overstepping his bounds, we may be able to reach some compromise measures that will protect our other valuable programs," Keefe said. "However, with NCLB and its sanctions numerous problems and obstacles must be overcome for the arts to thrive."

— JoAnn Knutson
Brighton Standard Blade


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