Ten Years of Unleashing Creative Minds

In the past 10 years, the Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD) and Professional Development for Art Educators (PDAE) grant programs have unleashed the creative minds of students, deepened their learning experiences in core academic subjects through arts integration, and enhanced the knowledge and skills of teachers to meet high standards in the arts.

Both programs emphasize collaboration between school districts and non-profit organizations, resulting in greater student engagement and a well-rounded education.

During a recent conference, several AEMDD and PDAE grantees sat down with us to explain how arts integration has impacted their students, teachers, schools, and communities. Read more and watch the video below.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

ED Releases New Report on Arts Education in U.S. Public Schools

On Monday, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), part of the U.S. Department of Education, released the findings of the first nationwide arts survey in a decade that comprehensively documents the state of arts education in U.S. public schools.

Arts Report Cover PhotoAt the announcement, Secretary Arne Duncan pointed to the importance of the report because it allows us to compare changes in arts education over time, and it’s the first survey that enables us to get a clear sense of how the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law has affected arts education.

“It’s a good news, bad news story,” according to Secretary Duncan.  On the one hand, there have not been significant national declines in the availability of music and visual arts instruction in elementary and secondary schools. However, for theater and dance in elementary schools, the percentages of schools making these art forms available went from 20 percent 10 years ago to only 4 and 3 percent, respectively, in the 2009-10 school year.  In addition, at more than 40 percent of secondary schools, coursework in arts was not required for graduation in the 2009-10 school year.

Most troubling is an “equity gap” between the availability of arts instruction as well as the richness of course offerings for students in low-poverty schools compared to those in high-poverty schools, leading students who are economically disadvantaged to not get the enrichment experiences of affluent students.

The Department of Education is tackling this equity gap by allowing states flexibility under NCLB, and through a competitive priority for the arts and humanities in the Promise Neighborhood competition.

“A well-rounded education is simply too vital to our students’ success to let the teaching of the arts and humanities erode,” Secretary Duncan concluded at the announcement.

Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 1999-2000 and 2009-10 is a product of the National Center for Education Statistics at the Institute of Education Sciences.

To view the full report please visit here, and click here to read Secretary Duncan’s prepared remarks.

ED and Its Art

As I transitioned to the Department of Education from my prior life as a college president, I experienced a concern I had every time I changed positions: I worried that I would lose some of the most important aspects of my prior job.  For example, when I moved from private law practice into a professorship at a law school, I was concerned that I would forget what “real” lawyers did and what “real” clients needed — key information for helping to prepare law students to become quality lawyers.  As I now increasingly focus on higher education policy in DC, I do not want to lose sight of why that policy matters.

Student art

"Environmental Changes" by Kelly Pifer, age 16, a 2011 Scholastic Award winner, is on display at ED headquarters.

The question is simple: How can I stay connected with students while in Washington, linking theory to practice? Little did I realize at first that right here in the windows, walls and halls of the Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) Department of Education Building, there is a constant reminder of those who depend on our success.

Even before one enters either side of the LBJ building, there are photographs on the outside windows of diverse students of all ages — students learning in classrooms and labs, participating in athletics, and experiencing graduation.

These photographic images, installed in 2008, are repeated on the elevator doors, and on each floor there are photographs of students as one exits the elevators. I know I’m headed in the right direction each day because I see students playing cello. And, at the end of halls on many floors, there are historic, black and white photographs of students and schools; the image of young dancers at the ballet bar on the 6th floor is particularly compelling.


"Untitled" by student Hin Ling, is displayed at ED headquarters

But, the halls have more than photographs.  Starting on the first floor, there is original student art from grades pre-K through professional art school.  There are works, which hang anew each year, created by students who received Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.  This exhibit, now in its ninth year, represents a collaboration among The Alliance for Young Artists and Writers and the U.S. Department of Education.

Every two to three months, other student groups display their art on the Maryland Ave. side of the first floor.  Since its inception in 2004, this program has included works from the Native American Student Art Competition, Duke Ellington School for the Arts, the Military Child Education Coalition and the National PTA Reflections Exhibition, among many others. Each exhibit is also accompanied by a public event, with the student artists and their families in attendance, with an added bonus of student performances. The popularity of these temporary exhibits is evidenced by the fact that the exhibit space is booked through 2015!

Student art

"My Sisters' Room" by Munira, age 13, is displayed at ED headquarters

And, then, there is student art on each of the floors — watercolors and collages and acrylics from all parts of the country and from all age groups.  And, schools with vibrant art programs create important engagement for their students.

Even if we are not explicitly paying attention to the art on the walls every day, the student works inform, to use Tony Hiss’ phrase, our experience of place and space.

One of the comments in the Student Art Exhibit Guest Book in the lobby, made by an ED employee about a recent exhibit, expresses gratitude for the experience: “Thank you for bringing such joy and beauty into the Department.”  I would add to that this thought: “And thank you for reminding us of the people served by the important work we do.”

Karen Gross is a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary

It’s March. Do You know How Strong Your Schools’ Arts Programs Are?

The arts are an important part of a well-rounded education for all students. All of the arts – dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts – are essential to preparing our nation’s young people for a global economy fueled by innovation and creativity and for a social discourse that demands communication in images and sound as well as in text.

Secretary Duncan views student art

Secretary Duncan talks with students at one of the ED's frequent Student Art Exhibit Openings at the Department's headquarters.

The importance of arts education is celebrated each year during March through Dance in the Schools Month, Music in Our Schools Month, Theatre in Our Schools Month, and Youth Art Month. Throughout the country, student presentations in local communities will showcase how the arts infuse creativity and innovation into learning. The month also presents an opportunity to acknowledge the arts specialists who help students reach high standards in the arts, while also serving their school communities as “chief creative officers” who collaborate with classroom teachers to integrate the arts with other core subjects.

Research shows that arts-rich schools – ones that provide opportunities for students to experience the arts in deep and meaningful ways and to make curricular connections with math, science, and the humanities – are more engaging for students. As we strive to increase high school graduation rates and ensure that all students are college and career-ready, we know that students who attend arts-rich schools are more likely to stay in school and go on to graduate from college.

Let’s use this month to not only celebrate arts learning, but to also determine the health of our K-12 arts education programs. Where they need strengthening – and especially where they don’t currently exist – now is the time to make the arts a vital part of a complete education for all students.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

Teachers Share Their Experience Through Acting

What does education look and feel like from a teacher’s point of view? Genevieve DeBose, a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow, wanted to capture and share the voices of classroom teachers in creative ways with her Department of Education colleagues.

“Why not engage teachers in ED’s work through the arts?,” DeBose said. “Why not get a cohort of local educators to meet regularly to have a dialogue about the current status of their profession and think about what is possible for the future?”

The cast of Teacher's Lounge

The cast of Teacher's Lounge

DeBose invited teachers to join her “Teacher’s Lounge,” a two-month project that included a weekly discussion forum held at the Department of Education’s headquarters, and culminated in a play in the department’s auditorium. DeBose originally wanted to recruit seven or eight teachers/actors to act out her play, but since applications were so strong, she decided on accepting 14. One teacher drove four hours from Virginia Beach to participate.

“In a profession that can often be isolating and extremely overwhelming, teachers want to find new ways to share best practices and learn from their colleagues,” DuBose explained.

By working through writing and theater games, teachers shared their thoughts and feelings about their profession and educational initiatives.

The result was a powerful, inspiring experience. Participant Jonas Minino, a Spanish teacher from Loudon County, Md., said that he and his mother studied for the Praxis together, but she died of cancer before making it to a classroom. “I am a teacher for both of us,” he said, standing up with fiery determination in his eyes.

“Teacher’s Lounge” was a sounding board for teachers who love what they do and are not afraid to share their experiences of daily pressures, isolation, frustrations and dreams.

Department of Education employees were presented with the complex array of skills and abilities necessary to succeed in the classroom, and also shown how these skills are connected to real teachers who work on the front lines of learning with daily “courage in the classroom.” The profession can be challenging, but teachers persist because they know they affect lives, lift up dreams and create a better future.

At the end of the play, 14 teacher/actors asked, “What would you change? What can you change?” I believe that all of us must respond to this question by remembering that our nation’s teachers must have a prominent role in the transformation of their own profession in the 21st Century.

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National PTA and Arne Open Student Art Exhibit at ED

Students perform at the opening of the student art exhibit. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

“A well-rounded curriculum that embraces the arts and humanities is not a luxury but a necessity in the information age,” Secretary Duncan recently wrote. At the Department of Education we know the importance of drama, dance, music, the visual arts, and creative writing, and one way we celebrate student achievement in the arts is by highlighting student art from around the country, including hosting art exhibits at our headquarters.

Last week, Arne joined National PTA President-Elect Otha Thorton to open the National PTA’s Reflections Program student art exhibit at ED. The ceremony included student dance, chorus and string performances. The National PTA’s Reflections Program encourages students to explore their artistic talents, and the exhibit will be on display at ED until March 7.

The Arts and Humanities in a Well-Rounded Education

In proclaiming October as National Arts and Humanities Month, President Obama reminds us that the arts and humanities, embodied in Norman Rockwell’s “The Problem We Live With” which hangs just outside of the Oval Office, “often challenge us to consider new perspectives and to rethink how we see the world.”

As core academic subjects, the arts and humanities equip young persons with the capacities to learn from the past, question the present, and envision new possibilities for the future. They are essential to a well-rounded, P-12 education for all Americans. I join with President Obama and the First Lady in rejecting the notion that the arts, history, foreign languages, geography, and civics are ornamental offerings that can be cut from schools during a fiscal crunch.

The study of history and civics provides a sense of time beyond the here and now.  The study of geography and culture helps build a sense of space and place. The study of drama, dance, music, and the visual arts helps students explore realities that cannot be summarized simply or even expressed in words or numbers.

A well-rounded curriculum that embraces the arts and humanities is not a luxury but a necessity in the information age. Young people need to be able to decipher complex digital communications; to appreciate and demand good design in their lives, communities,  and the marketplace; to not be fooled by superficial aesthetics that appeal to the senses while masking half-truths or worse;  and to turn the tables on technology by becoming skilled creators and not merely consumers of information.

For all these reasons, I urge all America’s school leaders – superintendents, principals, and school boards – to embrace a well-rounded education for all students. Our schools need to sustain arts and humanities programs where they are robust, and strengthen them where they are not. As President Obama notes, a well-rounded education will give students opportunities to be “the creative thinkers of tomorrow.”

Arne Duncan

ED Opens Military Child Art Exhibit

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

“Through art, military-connected children open a little window to tell us how they feel and offer us a glimpse into their world,” said Patricia Shinseki at last week’s opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Military Child Education Coalition’s (MCEC) Student Art Exhibit at ED headquarters. Shinseki, an MCEC board member, gave the keynote address at the opening, which included the Presentation of the Colors by the Joint Armed Forces Color Guard, a musical performance by Nate Hutchings and a poetry reading by Jaron McKinnon, students from the teen center in Ft. Meade, Md.

Nate Hutchings a student from the teen center in Ft. Meade, Md., performs at the exhibit opening. (Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams)

MCEC is an international organization that identifies, brings awareness to and implements solutions to meet the challenges the highly mobile military child faces. ED’s newest exhibit includes artwork and writing from K–12 students living on military bases around the world, featuring a range of themes, such as globalization, familial love, loneliness, fear and patriotism. Military child and artist Kayla Rausch explained that “Art is my passion and a way of showing myself to others. Being in the Army is like being part of a huge family and I’m proud to be part of it.”

The opening was organized by the U.S. Department of Education’s Student Art Exhibit Program, under the direction of the Office of Communications and Outreach and the Office of Innovation and Improvement. The program features student art to honor teachers and students in a highly public space and to demonstrate art as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. For more information on ED’s Student Art Exhibit Program, please contact Jacquelyn Zimmermann at jacquelyn.zimmermann@ed.gov

Lydia Jun and Jasna Rodulfa are interns in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the Department of Education.

Strumming and Drumming with Local Students and Music Educators at ED

The percussive rhythm of tambourines and African drums as well as the sound of ukuleles and acoustic guitars filled the outdoor plaza at the Department of Education on Tuesday, May 10, when the nonprofit National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) brought its “Strumming and Drumming for Music Education” program to Washington. The event aimed to promote local student talent and raise awareness about the importance of music education in our nation’s schools.

Students from George Fox and Lime Kiln Middle Schools in Maryland showed off their skill in a large drum circle, led by musicians Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, a two-time Grammy-Award-winning duo.   Joining the students in their music-making were NAMM representatives; local music educators; former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley; former New York Yankee Bernie Williams; as well as Peter Cunningham, assistant secretary of communications and outreach; and Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary of innovation and improvement. ED employees and passersby were encouraged to pick up a ukulele or drum and join in the outdoor jam session.

Earlier this month, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) released its landmark report, Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools. The culmination of 18 months of research, meetings with stakeholders, and site visits throughout the country, this report reviews the current condition of arts education in America’s schools and reaffirms recent studies that have shown a link between high-quality arts programming and increased student achievement.

For more information about NAMM and its initiatives, please visit here. For additional details regarding the PCAH report and its findings, please select this link.

See photos

Tiffany Taber
Office of Communications and Outreach

Poetry Partnership Helps Students Find Their Voice

For a high school student, performing your poetry before the Secretary of Education is probably a little nerve-racking.  But if Luis Zelaya, a senior at Columbia Heights Education Campus in Washington, DC, was feeling any nerves, he certainly didn’t show it at Monday’s President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities Poetry Workshop at the Library of Congress.  Zelaya, reflecting on his youth in DC, read his poem “Memories” with power and emotion:

…Those good ole days,
With police and the jail visits,
The CIA and immigration,
And lonely nights with no one to tuck me in.

…I remember those days,
Which I worked out alone,
Which I exceeded without you,
Which I ate my burnt food,
Yea, I remember.

Monday’s event was the culmination of eight weekly workshops and tutoring sessions hosted by a partnership between the President’s Committee, the nonprofit 826DC and four DC-area public high schools.  The poetry workshops allowed students to work with poetry professors from American and Georgetown universities, and now that the workshops are complete, the students will publish an anthology of their poetry.

Secretary Duncan speaks with Luis Zelaya, a high school senior at Columbia Heights Educational Campus.

Speaking to Secretary Duncan and to the students and educators in attendance, Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities noted that, “Arts education in schools is a key strategy to getting kids engaged, keeping them in school, increasing academic success and building the kind of creativity and innovative thinking we need in today’s economy and workforce.”

Secretary Duncan spoke of the importance of providing a well-rounded education before turning the floor over to the students. “One of the most important things we can do as educators is to help all our young people find their voice,” he said. “It may be poetry, art, debate, robotics or even sports, but there is a genius in every single one of our young people….When you have students who can find their voice, who can find their passion, and who can find out what they love to do and what they can excel in, I feel very confident about where they’ll go in life.”

You can read more about the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities by visiting www.pcah.gov, and check out poetry resources from the federal government at ED’s Federal Resources for Educational Excellence site.

Every Child Needs the Arts

“Every child needs the arts,” a senior Education Department official told a group of arts educators at an event earlier this month.

Peter Cunningham, ED’s assistant secretary for communications and outreach and an accomplished guitar player, noted that the arts are an essential part of a well-rounded education that prepares students for success in the 21st Century workforce.

Students performing at an arts in education event at ED earlier this month.

At the April 6 event, educators, artists, and representatives of nonprofits from New Jersey and California discussed how integrating the arts into the core curriculum can raise academic achievement and foster skills young people need to confidently become innovative leaders of the future.

The Educational Arts Team, a Jersey-City (N.J.) based nonprofit that works with Jersey City Public Schools, and the Dramatic Results team, a community-based nonprofit that works with the Long Beach Unified School District in Long Beach, Calif., gave spirited presentations that shared their successful results of infusing the arts into learning.

Both groups are grantees under ED’s Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination Program.  Teachers from both districts and evaluation experts explained that infusing the arts into the core academic curriculum engages students and taps into their unique learning styles, resulting in higher student achievement.  They told the audience that using the arts to teach core subjects helps develop higher-order thinking skills and results in more active participation and collaboration in class.  Their claims of success are backed by data from the randomized evaluation of both programs, which show academic gains in language arts and mathematics by the students involved in arts compared with their peers in traditional education programs.

President Obama’s plan to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will support schools as they provide a well-rounded curriculum that includes the arts, sciences history, and civics as well as reading and mathematics.

Click here for more information on the evidence behind the success of the Arts-Integration Grantee program.

Mary Criasia is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the Department of Education

An Education Masterpiece in Baton Rouge

This week, the Department of Education released a video about a remarkable public elementary school that combines the art of learning with the learning of art.

Produced for ED by the History Channel, the new video tells the story of Forest Heights Academy of Excellence in Baton Rouge, Louisiana—an award-winning public magnet school where students excel in both academics and the performing and the visual arts.

In addition to the standard academic curriculum, Forest Heights students have the opportunity to study instrumental music, visual arts, drama, dance, and vocal music. Their arts curriculum is comprehensive and is based on national, state, and local standards. Kids learn everything from costume design and stage lighting to jazz and tap dance, and the school also has a modern, high-tech theater and arts facility.

At Forest Heights, students also learn math, science, language, and social studies through their study of the arts. Thus, kids encounter mathematical principles through music and learn lessons about history while they work on theatrical productions.

More than half the school’s population is disadvantaged. About 85 percent of the students are African-American.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Education named Forest Heights Academy of Excellence a Blue Ribbon School, the highest honor the federal government bestows on schools throughout the country. For a public school to win this award, student achievement must be in either the top 10 percent on state assessments or show improvement to high levels with at least 40 percent of the school’s population from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Earlier this year, Secretary Arne Duncan spoke about the critical importance of an education in the arts:

“First, the arts significantly boost student achievement, reduce discipline problems, and increase the odds that students will go on to graduate from college. Second, arts education is essential to stimulating the creativity and innovation that will prove critical to young Americans competing in a global economy. And last, but not least, the arts are valuable for their own sake, and they empower students to create and appreciate aesthetic works.”

See the full text of Secretary Duncan’s remarks on the importance of the arts and a well-rounded curriculum or more information on the Blue Ribbon School’s program.

John McGrath
Office of Communications and Outreach

Click here for an accessible version of the video.