Don't Fire the Teachers

09/28/2011 05:30 pm ET | Updated Nov 28, 2011
  • John M. Eger Van Deerlin Endowed Chair of Communications and Public Policy at San Diego State University (SDSU)

In a piece last March called "First, Let's Fire All the Teachers!", Diane Ravitch made the observation, common to both Barack Obama and George Bush, that "The fundamental principle of school reform is if students don't get high enough scores, then someone must be punished! If the graduation rate hovers around 50%, then someone must be punished."

This, she points out, is what's known as "accountability."

We accomplish nothing by pointing the finger at the teachers. Sure it is a human tendency to look for a scapegoat and fire somebody. No wonder Donald Trump is taken seriously.

But what about retraining? Isn't this a viable alternative?

Most teachers in elementary and middle schools across America never had art and music in school. In fact, since the start of the so-called space race with the launch of Sputnik in 1957, we have witnessed a decrease in art and music with an emphasis on math and science. Only now we are beginning to see the connections between art and science and music and math and the new thinking skills leading to creativity.

These new higher order thinking skills are in demand in the global knowledge based economy, what is being called the "age of creativity and innovation."

As a consequence, new educational programs to train artists to be teachers, and teachers to know how to use the arts as a vehicle to teach more traditional disciplines are popping up across the country.

ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, said in a report two years ago that "studies also show that participating in the arts can actually boost student achievement in other academic areas. Therefore, arts groups are partnering with schools to provide professional development for teachers interested in integrating arts instruction across content areas."

The Muse Machine, "a nationally recognized arts education organization annually serving 70,000 students and their teachers in 10 counties in southwestern Ohio" also found that "the arts (and arts integration in particular) help close the achievement gap.... boost learning and achievement for young prepare a creative workforce (and) serve as an essential skill for the future workforce."

The Arts Integration Specialist Program (AISP) in Alameda California "provides K-12 teachers and teaching artists in public schools the insight, understanding, and skills they require to provide engaging and effective art and arts-integrated lessons across all areas of curriculum and to advance professionally. ...(Offering) core courses and electives, with the option to acquire continuing education units through Cal State East Bay or Mills College."

The Program "qualifies teaching artists, credentialed arts teachers, multiple subject and single subject credentialed teachers to provide leadership, as well as pedagogical and content knowledge to professional learning communities within their school and district contexts." Specifically, the "curriculum gives participants (among other skills)... Strategies for arts integration."

Similar certificate programs are available at Towson University, in Towson Maryland (north of Baltimore), which has partnered with nearby, Kensington Parkwood Elementary (KP) to develop a model arts integrated school.

KP is one of three schools in Montgomery County Public Schools that was selected as part of a three-year United States Department of Education Arts Education and Dissemination grant from 2003-2006. In 2007, the school received the prestigious Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts National Schools of Distinction in Arts Education Award. KP believes that "Arts integration is integral to the School Improvement Plan and ties directly to developing 21st century skills for student learning."

And in Atlanta, Georgia is the ArtsNow Program, a "professional development and resources for educators and is a collaborative effort led by four Primary Collaborators (Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education, Department of Theater Studies at Emory University, Georgia State University School of Music, and Savannah College of Art and Design, Atlanta)."

ArtsNow makes it very clear that "creative teaching through the arts is a proven strategy for helping students learn most successfully. The arts stimulate parts of the brain required for all other learning." Together with their partners, the arts integrated program, which began in February 2006, reports it has reached 633 educators from 128 schools in 14 school systems representing 50%+ of all Atlanta Public Schools.

It is not too soon to launch a nation-wide effort to retrain our teachers, and in turn, retool our K-12 curriculum.