Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A is for Art, and Plus is for Platitudes

What is an "A + Schools Network"? An article in this week's Education Week provides one of the vaguest, buzzword-infested descriptions I've seen of a purportedly innovative educational approach, even in this publication. Here's the extent of what we learn about what makes a group of schools an "A + Schools Network":

A key ingredient, and perhaps the best-known feature, is the network’s strong emphasis on the arts, both in their own right and infused across the curriculum...
The networks are guided by eight core principles, or “essentials,” as they’re called, including a heavy dose of the arts, teacher collaboration, experiential learning, and exploration of “multiple intelligences” among students. At the same time, each state has some differences in emphasis. Oklahoma’s network describes its mission as “nurturing creativity in every learner.” 
The principles, fleshed out:
Arts Taught daily. Inclusive of drama, dance, music, visual arts, and writing. Integrated across curriculum. Valued as “essential to learning.”

Curriculum Curriculum mapping reflects alignment. Development of “essential questions.” Create and use interdisciplinary thematic units. Cross-curricular integration.

Experiential Learning Grounded in arts-based instruction. A creative process. Includes differentiated instruction. Provides multifaceted assessment opportunities.

Multiple Intelligences Multiple-learning pathways used within planning and assessment. Understood by students and parents. Used to create “balanced learning opportunities.”

Enriched Assessment Ongoing. Designed for learning. Used as documentation. A “reflective” practice. Helps meet school system requirements. Used by teachers and students to self-assess.

Collaboration Intentional. Occurs within and outside school. Involves all teachers (including arts teachers), as well as students, families, and community. Features “broad-based leadership.”

Infrastructure Supports A+ philosophy by addressing logistics such as schedules that support planning time. Provides appropriate space for arts. Creates a “shared vision.” Provides appropriate space for arts. Creates a “shared vision.” Provides professional development. Continual “team building.”

Climate Teachers “can manage the arts in their classrooms.” Stress is reduced. Teachers treated as professionals. Morale improves. Excitement about the program grows.
The networks and would-be networks, moreover, are "activity-based," involve "project-based-learning ideas," and, in the case of a group of A+-aspiring Arkansas KIPP schools, are desireous of taking things "to the next level" (from "structure, discipline and rigor" to "the creativity of teachers and students").

Here's what little we have in the way of specifics:

1. "a visual representation of the food chain displayed in one hallway," created by the students themselves. A fine idea, but hardly original.

2. Algebra concepts via dance:

As with so many other gimmicks, so, too, with this one: the good ideas aren't new, and what's new isn't a good idea.

But this hasn't stopped experts at the highest levels of bureaucracy from lavishing accolades on Oklahoma's A+ Network. Specifically:
praise from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and mention in a 2011 arts education report from the President’s Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
As for little old me, what impressed me the most is this:
As part of the application process, a school must gain the support of 85 percent or more of its faculty members before a review by A+ staff and outside experts.
Not making changes before staff are behind them is a good (and old) idea; what would, apparently, be a totally new and good idea would be also requiring 85 percent support from parents. Now why hasn't anyone thought of that?


Anonymous said...

Right, that'll work.

If teachers want to be respected and be treated as professionals, they need to be professionals. Professionals take personal responsibility for the outcomes of the individuals they serve. If a doctor decided to ditch chemo and replace it with dance therapy he would loose his license and be drummed out of his profession.

Currently, parents are the only ones responsible for outcomes, and the difference between succeeding and failing in school depends on what happens to the child outside the classroom, not in it. If teachers want to be respected, they should pay a lot more attention to the opinions of the people who are ultimately responsible -- the parents! Somehow, I don't think that teaching Algebra with modern dance will move the educational system in that direction.

Anonymous said...

But dance is so much more fun!

Auntie Ann said...

Here's one example of a fun, semi-practical use of dance to teach. In this case, it is teaching a computer sorting algorithm...and it's hysterical:

Shell Sort via Hungarian folk dancing.

I wouldn't want kids to have to put it together and dance it themselves, but watching it for homework would be okay.

Anonymous said...