Common Core Web Conference: Questions and Answers

Julie Fry and Richard Kessler hosted Common Core: What Are the Possibilities for the Arts? as part of the 2011 GIA Web Conference Series. Too many questions were submitted for the available time, so we have posted the questions here with responses from Julie and Richard.

Question: Can anyone predict how high stakes testing for "accountability" give way to the deeper, higher order learning which are goals of the Common Core standards?

Answer:   I don't think that high stakes testing is going away, in fact, the stakes will get even higher since measurements of principal and teacher effectiveness will be based, in part, on test scores. So, with bonuses, tenure, and termination based partly on testing, the stakes will increase dramatically. What Common Core seeks to do, is to use more robust and authentic types of assessment, combined with the goals of the Common Core, to move us away from the problems associated with bubble testing.

Question: While this call is about CCSS, my concern is that the arts will not be a priority in CCSS or elsewhere if the proposed legislation, HR 1891, passes. In essence, this will significantly de-prioritize the arts. What are your thoughts on this?

Answer:   In the grand scheme of things, the loss of $40M in federal arts in education support is not catastrophic, but its demise would be extremely symbolic, another "feel-good but not economically important social program", a perspective that those in the arts education field have been fighting against for years. The positive news out of DC is the release of the report from the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), "Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America's Future Through Creative Schools".

Perhaps as this shines more light – and perhaps credibility – on the importance of a quality arts education as key to strong 21st century skills, it will create new discussions inside the Beltway about the importance of sustaining this budget line item. At this point, the most critical way to ensure that the arts are prioritized is through ongoing and sustained local and statewide advocacy, and efforts to build public will for arts engagement through in-school, after-school, and out-of school programs.

In some ways, HR 1891 was predictable, I am sorry to say. I would argue that it is a wake-up call for the arts education field. Due to the design of the USDOE Arts Education and Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD) program and the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) measures required for reporting, Congress has seen very little about AEMDD beyond the impact on reading and math scores. AEMDD, and PDAE, have accomplished much more than the USDOE has ever reported to Congress or disseminated to the public. And, since the impact on test scores for all of the AEMDD programs in any given year has been relatively minor, it has given the impression that the program is ineffective. That has become the position of the House of Representatives. Grantees, and indeed the entire field will need to be more vigilant about what is reported out in such programs, even if it has to push the USDOE.

Question: I'm not in a position to fund national organizations. If I were to look for projects that insert the arts in the Common Core, where could my locally-focused foundation exert appropriate pressure?

Answer:   From a local or regional funding perspective, it will be important to see what is happening with the Common Core at the district level, first and foremost. Are there ways to partner with existing grantees – whether they are nonprofit arts providers, or specific school sites or districts – to ensure that Common Core curriculum and assessments include the arts? Professional development for teachers on using the arts to reach Common Core standards, is another way to think of providing support.

Most local school districts and certainly all of the 48 state departments of education that have signed on to Common Core have staff focused on implementing the Common Core standards. That is the point of leverage to look at. Can local funding incentive a broadening of the local Common Core work to incorporate the arts? That is a good strategy to examine.

Question: Are any content areas specifically asking for input from the arts community?

Answer:   Not that we know of, yet.

Question: Are there any examples of local school districts who have successfully adopted these standards that we can go to for models? Will the Common Core website make successful practices visible?

Answer:   Full adoption of the standards has not yet taken place, since there is so much still in the development and piloting stages, including the assessments, units of study, maps, etc. More and more materials will become available in the next couple of years, from the Common Core website, websites of individual school districts, non-profit organizations, for profit entities, and state departments of education. The Gates Foundation has funded a number of Common Core projects and is expected to support dissemination.

The New York City Public Schools have spent a great deal of time in Common Core work, including incorporating the arts. However, they are not yet sharing this work with the public.

A good place to look, as a leading edge project on Common Core, is at the Curriculum Maps created by the non-profit organization Common Core. Over 2 million teachers have viewed the maps during the development stage:

It's still early days; states are still thinking about how to implement the standards. If you go to your state's DOE website, you should be able to find information about the current approach.

Question: As devils advocate, I tend to view Common Core as Bloom on Steroids, and I am dubious of the availability of adequate resources to see this ambitious plan through to a responsive and useful shape.

Answer:   There is no doubt that the resources necessary to bring the Common Core to fruition give many people pause. If one were to only look at the resources necessary to provide professional development around the new assessments, combined with the cuts to education budgets in the states, it would be fair to wonder how the work can all be accomplished. That being said, there are those who view the work as being much more long-term than we ordinarily see in K-12 public education and that as long as support grows, along with the continued development and evolution of the Common Core Standards, that much can be accomplished.

Question: Would you please comment on the PCAH May 2011 report's recommendations, specifically about developing arts integration, teaching artists in public schools, and what evidence/data policy makers need to see about arts education learning outcomes?

Answer:   The President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) report, released at the Arts Education Partnership Forum in May 2011 is called "Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America's Future Through Creative Schools". It's an apt title, and an excellent report, which provides a "making the case" summary of the arts education field, recognizing important key points that: 1) there are many different approaches to providing arts education, therefore collaboration is key, and 2) access and equity to arts education is poor. In providing five recommendations for arts-rich schools, the PCAH report has laid out a manifesto for how diverse voices across states can build on their existing arts education assets, develop a spirit of cooperation and a unified vision, and implement strategies to ensure that everyone has access to arts learning. The specific recommendations on arts integration and teaching artists reflect an understanding that arts education is a mosaic of delivery systems, a far cry from the narrower definition of yore.

The appendices are also an excellent resource for arts education research extolling the benefits of the arts in school, programs that currently connect artists to school, and federal programs that intersect with the arts.

The PCAH report has to be seen for what it is as well as what it isn't. Clearly it is not a blueprint, even though there are some specific recommendations. Personally, I view it as a semi political/rhetorical document meant to express support and argue for arts education, while asserting value and recognizing a few exemplars.

The issue of arts education outcomes is a tricky one. There are some policy makers who say that the arts cannot be part of accountability regimes unless there are measure outcomes that are comparable across a district and/or state and including measurements for growth. Such outcomes are most often found in standardized assessments, which have been difficult for the arts, to a large degree because of the inequities of access in urban school districts. This situation makes such outcomes difficult to assess. Many advocates have called for broader measurements for the arts beyond standardized performance assessments.

Question: Two parter: 1) Have you experienced push-back from public education funders around prioritizing/advancing arts issues?; 2) Where/how have graduate teacher training programs been involved in this process of embedding the arts in core standards?

Answer:   On the contrary, Grantmakers for Education has been a solid partner by helping its members consider how to incorporate the arts as part of a quality education. GFE partnered with Grantmakers in the Arts in 2010 at a Thought Leader Forum with thirty funders from around the country who support the arts, education, or both to discuss how to assure that equitable arts learning happens in urban K-12 public schools. In fact, this was the third joint meeting about arts education between GIA and GFE members in the past four years. We had an opportunity to share the results of the latest forum at the GFE conference at the end of 2010 with education funders, and there is clearly an interest in learning how to work together to develop a core curriculum and education programs that inspire creativity and innovation in students. There is still a lot of work to be done on this front, and it will be essential to engage more education funders along the way. This is first and foremost an education issue, and so as arts grantmakers we need to make sure we understand what the education funding field is trying to achieve. They are very strong on policy advocacy funding, so we can learn a thing or two from them, as well.

The Hewlett Foundation's collaboration between the Education and Performing Arts programs is a good example of how joint arts education funding has helped to advance arts education in California over the past six years through co-investments in statewide research, advocacy efforts with legislators, educators, and parents, and support for a few model programs demonstrating good and far-reaching arts education programming. It will be important to find ways to continue this arts education partnership to advance the Education program's deeper learning strategy, which seeks to prepare students to:

  • Master core academic content
  • Think critically and solve complex problems
  • Work collaboratively
  • Communicate effectively
  • Learn how to learn (e.g., self-directed learning)

A number of states require arts coursework in order to receive teacher certification. However, the coursework is often minimal in terms of time, depth, and invention. This is an area that has long needed attention.

Question: Are you familiar with any organized efforts to help arts and cultural partners build their understanding of Common Core standards and to align their programs with these new standards?

Answer:   One specific initiative so far to inform educators has been the one that Ayanna Hudson from Arts for All in Los Angeles mentioned during the webinar. Arts for All partners, the LA County Arts Commission and the LA Office of Education, came together and developed a free, quarterly, professional development series for assistant superintendents with teams of up to five elementary school principals to learn about Teaching Creativity with the Common Core Standards. This program just launched on June 22nd.

The Center for Arts Education has been conducting Principals Institutes on Common Core and the Arts, and is also running an arts and ELL program this summer for immigrant youth that is beginning to weave the Common Core standards into ELL. Additionally, there are many other organizations across the country that have begun to align their work with the Common Core standards.

We are looking for other examples of efforts to include arts and cultural partners in Common Core, and will post them when we find them!

Question: I'm also curious about the Common Core parent guides--would you say more?

Answer:   The National PTA has developed The Parents' Guide to Student Success in English and Spanish in response to the Common Core State Standards. Created by teachers, parents, education experts, and others from across the country, the standards provide clear, consistent expectations for what students should be learning at each grade in order to be prepared for college and career. The National PTA created the guides for grades K-8 and two for grades 9-12 (one for English language arts/literacy and one for mathematics).

The National PTA guide is the only such guide we know of at this time. This might just be a great project on the local, regional, and national level: the creation of parent guides for Common Core Standards and The Arts.