Friday, September 26, 2008

Des Moines Register's Roundtable on World-Class Schools

The Register invited five educators to talk about how educators can make sure students have the knowledge and skills to be globally competitive. 
The full transcript of educators' discussion about world-class schools is posted online.

Diane Franken's Letter to the Des Moines Register:

Response to the Des Moines Register Panel Discussion on World-Class Schools…

I am the Executive Director of the Iowa Alliance for Arts Education, a non-profit, non-governmental organization whose mission is to support and advance arts programs across Iowa. I would like to bring to your attention, through quoting recent studies by leaders in business and education, that your responses have missed the mark in leaving the arts out of your solution for Iowa’s students and, therefore, being represented on your panel. I provide evidence for my remarks below.

The original question posed was to identify the knowledge and skills necessary in education to be globally competitive. The responses at the beginning of the discussion from the college contacts centered exclusively on obtaining more and more math and science skills. According to the authoritative evidence I refer to below, this simply is limited in scope in today’s world. One of the teachers, to their credit, pointed out that education should not be about preparing for the next level, (a place where the college contacts had misdirected the original question) but to be “prepared to live in a global society.” Yet, responses continued to be primarily about obtaining basic skills in math and science, even when it was brought out that there is just too much information out there and that students now should be life-long learners not information gatherers. Only at the end of the discussion, did one of the college contacts bring up the creative thinking skills and innovation of the U.S education system. However, this was not connected to the arts education, the original purveyors of these skills. I cannot stress the need to emphasize their importance. Please do a search for the studies I am quoting so you can read the complete reports and see the emphasis on the essential arts education skills of creativity and innovation by business leaders and economists, as well as art education leaders.

First, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has developed a vision for 21st century student success in the new global economy in their recent report, Learning for the 21st Century. The Framework of their recommendations includes the arts as one of the Core Subjects. The Partnership also includes the skills of Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Communication and Collaboration. These skills have always been at the core of arts education teaching. The Partnership also includes the Life and Career Skill of Social and Cross-Cultural Skill and an Interdisciplinary Theme of Global Awareness, which your panel seemed to agree, are important. Why is this study particularly important? For one, as I pointed out, this call comes from the business leaders who authored the document with educational leaders. The Alliance applauds Governor Culver for recently signing Iowa on as a Partnership State, and the Iowa Department of Education’s inclusion of Arts Units in the Iowa Model Core. The Alliance plans to continue to collaborate with the Governor, Lieutenant Governor’s office and the Iowa Department of Education to include all the above recommendations from the Partnership that will further support and advance arts education programs.

The second document I wish to cite, Tough Choices, Tough Times, by the new Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce from the National Center on Education and the Economy concludes that the skills of CREATIVITY and INNOVATION are essential for our students in the 21st century and goes on to say that: “While the basic subjects of math, science, language, etc. are still important, they are no longer enough for our graduates to compete in our global world. Our education system is built for another era. Our testing system rewards students who will be good at the very routine work that will not be waiting for them. While doing this, we are not providing opportunities for students to display CREATIVE and INNOVATIVE thinking and analysis. The problem is not with our educators. It is with the system in which they work. A system that pursues the wrong goals more efficiently is not a system this nation needs.” Again, they echo that: “an equal preparation in the arts that teach these skills will make the competitive difference and translate to all types of jobs.”

The third document is a recent survey, called Ready to Innovate: Key Findings, by the Conference Board, Americans for the Arts, and the American Association of School Administrators that found 85% of employers, concerned with hiring creative people, say they cannot find the applicants they seek. The findings indicate that in most high schools, this study in their curricula is only offered as an elective not as an essential core learning for all. A national survey of American voters( ) indicated that the “majority are dissatisfied with public education’s narrow focus on the ‘so-called’ basics and believe developing the imagination is a critical, but missing ingredient for student’s success in the 21st century and for moving students beyond average. 88% of respondents indicated that: “An education in and through the arts is essential to cultivate the imagination."

International lecturer and author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, Ken Robinson, says: “American’s education system continues to stress the skills needed in the past, ignoring the real needs of today’s workforce. The biggest mistake is educating people to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. CREATIVITY is central to the practice of science and business and more. The U.S. needs creative people in all fields. CREATIVITY is now as important in education as literacy and mathematics and we should treat it with the same stature.” He goes on to say: “It is essential that there be an equal balance between areas of the curriculum and between knowledge and creative development. We need an education that values different modes of intelligence.”


Improving Iowa schools: Use arts to nurture a global outlook

If you want to see global education right in central Iowa, look no further than Phenix and Hillside Elementary in West Des Moines. Granted, the Leonard Bernstein model of "artful learning" emphasizes the arts as the vehicle to hook kids into engaging in learning, but globally speaking, it does so much more. More...

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