This is the online stream for sharing conversations that happened throughout the Greater Bay Area from March through June 2012 around the question:

How can we collectively transform public education through the arts to create a better future for everyone?

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Translation and Amplification

In reflecting on the synthesis of the Map the Next 10 Years planning process posted here, and this week’s guest blogs elaborating its key points, I notice a crosscutting theme. That theme is the importance of translation and amplification.


How can we translate what matters to us; what we do well; and where we are trying to go in a way that allows us to find with others what Joe Landon refers to as “overlapping interests,” and “shared commitments?” As John Abodeely writes, when it comes to education, “thousands of people each day make decisions that impact what is taught to whom by whom and for how long,” and each of these people brings different priorities, responsibilities, and perspectives to the table. Translation is key to finding common ground within this complex picture and to forging the kinds of coalitions Abodeely suggests have impact within our messy system.

The current movement around the Common Core State Standards, which Browning Neddeau discusses, and related movements advancing the importance of deeper learning and college and career readiness, for example, represent opportunities for the arts education field to apply the power of translation. Proponents of these movements are talking about the importance of creativity, imagination, engagement, collaboration, higher-order thinking, and hands-on, student-driven, real-world, interdisciplinary learning. As a field, we have decades of experience delivering arts and arts integrated curricula that shift classroom contexts and teaching and learning to yield these outcomes. We have documented this experience through research ( and best practice. How might we now translate this knowledge to illuminate where our interests and commitments overlap with those of these other educational movements? And how might we articulate our expertise to help shape and advance these movements? (I think, for example, of the potential power of the arts education field translating what it has learned about preparing teachers to teach arts integrated curricula to inform the conversation about how to prepare teachers to facilitate deeper learning).


Key to our ability to “Build on What’s Working,” is our ability to amplify our work—to make sure that others within and outside our field hear about our best practice and the knowledge that we are developing as a field. I was struck at the meeting I attended at the Alameda County Arts Learning Alliance during its mapping process, that I had not heard of several of the arts education organizations that were sitting around the table, despite the fact that they were local and doing exemplary work. What role might each of us—as funders, policymakers, artists, educators, researchers, youth, families—play in amplifying the best practice and learning in our field? How might such amplification support our ability to connect around or own work in the fruitful ways described by Audrey Brown, or connect to the work of others in the way Carl Anthony invites in his post about the environmental justice movement?

The Shift to “We” with Teacher Education Programs and Teaching Artists – Browning Neddeau, Faculty, USF and SJSU credentialing programs

The shift from “you” and “me” to “we” is highly relevant to my work in teacher education and equally as relevant to the credential students served in teacher education programs.  Teacher education is a field that is constantly evolving.  In 1983, A Nation At Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform pushed teachers to focus on accountability in student achievement.  Some states have since tied student achievement to a teacher’s salary or employment status.  This type of relationship is sometimes coined “performance-based pay”.

The latest evolution in teacher education is the understanding and appreciation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  A Nation At Risk, performance-based pay, and CCSS may all be well-intentioned, but all three polarize our work as professionals in education.  They push teachers to focus on student achievement in their individual classrooms and to isolate student achievement in certain content areas such as English language arts and mathematics instead of celebrating the individuality within each of us.  They encourage a departmentalized learning mentality rather than an integrated approach to learning, exploring, and growing.

Emphasizing the need for collaboration in teacher education courses may be a powerful tool as preservice teachers become inservice teachers.  This is especially true as attention grows with conversations concerning STEM to STEAM and how both of these contribute to student achievement while embracing individuality and, hence, creativity in all of us.  I predict that such conversations in teacher education courses will demand greater collaboration with teaching artists and professors in teacher education as standards-based instruction is neither new nor disappearing from the teaching profession.

Through collaboration with teaching artists, teachers can blend their skills in content pedagogy with effective and meaningful experiences in the arts.  Early experiences with teaching artists in teacher education programs will allow preservice teachers to engage in the power of art-making early in their teaching careers.

I think that engaging in a shift from “you” and “me” to “we” truly needs to be embraced early in one’s teaching career before novice teachers become “too busy” to explore alternative ways of knowing that may benefit their students tenfold.  This leaves us with the question: How shall we start this important dialogue about the shift to “we” with teacher education programs and teaching artists that is both evidence-based and rewarding for all involved in the collaborative efforts?

– Browning Neddeau
Faculty member at the University of San Francisco and San Jose State University in their multiple subjects teacher credentialing programs

Building on What Works-an art teacher joins the conversation

I have been asked to comment on the 5 concepts for collectively transforming public education through the arts. Change is great, and sometimes, most of the time, I would love to tear down the entire public education system and start from scratch. I have 3 paragraphs to write about something that occupies 75% of my life, so here we go.

Building on what works, that is the concept that speaks to me loudest. And how do we define what works? For me it is a high level  of student engagement, students understand key concepts, and at the more advanced levels, students create compelling , high concept, risk taking work, using a high level of craftsmanship and showing authentic voice. I think this holds true across the board of the subject matter game, although I am not sure about Math. Do I know how to make this happen in my art classes? You bet I do, and I have plenty of evidence to prove it.

I do know what works, and I am pretty clear about the obstacles to making things work as well. Here is a short list: NCLB, Companion Math and English Classes, lack of funding, lack of parent and community understanding of the importance of Visual and Performing Arts. I am lucky to be in a district where the administration really supports the arts and “gets it”. Even so, did I mention facilities, lack of funding, crowded classes, lack of funding, constant threats of layoffs,  furlough days, and lack of funding?

And finally, understanding that Building on What Works means that not just one thing ever works. Every student has a different need in order to shine. Building on What Works means “Connecting. “ What has helped me the most as a teacher, is my connection with other great teachers, through conferences and workshops, through online list serve groups, and serving on advisory boards.  Connecting with schools and higher education offering the kinds of classes we can only dream about  ( Here, I’m thinking about Oxbow and all our fabulous California art colleges).And finally, connecting the student to that larger world of the arts., whether it be higher education, career connections , gallery and museum visits or professional performances.  Connection is the challenge. It is the work outside the work and it is how to build what works.watercolor by naomi caylao, 12th grade, 2012

Arts Education is a Political Issue

I’ve said this before (if you Google the title of this, you’ll see other stuff I’ve said about this):

Arts education is as much a political issue as it is an educational or instructional one.

This seems obvious to me, but I work at the intersection of educators and politics. This of it this way: what is taught to whom by whom and for how long are all political questions. What subjects are taught? What constitutes each subject? (Generally, these are state standards.) Who is teaching them? Who is hired to teach? How are they trained to teach? What qualifies them? Who is being taught? Which kids attend which schools? Which kids end up in which classroom? Which kids are remediated into math-only school days, for example? And, finally, for how long? Is reading a 180 minute-block session? Is the schedule block or linear? How often does the music teacher see each kid? Is it “each kid” or is it just the 5th graders? Is it just the 5th graders who aren’t in trouble?

These questions about how the education system is organized and run are answered by adults. They are not answered by the recipients of the decisions’ outcomes (the kids). They are answered by people who are paid by the system or who are elected to make decisions. They are made, secondarily, by advocates who spend their time and/or money trying to affect each decision.

A good example of the political nature of public education: any controversy over state standards. See the recent Texas debacle. Or the previous Texas debacle.

Let’s add to this daunting picture. There are multiple levels of governance: federal, state, and local. Within states, sometimes there are intermediary units such as county departments of education that sit above school districts. (In PA and other state they’re call “intermediate units.”) Within the “local” sphere there are districts and there are schools.

The federal levels includes congress and the president and the US Department of Education. The state includes the state department of education, the state board of education, the governor, etc. Locals, of course, include superintendents, their team, principals, teachers, etc.

Lest we forget the private sector: there are PTAs and other advocacy groups at the federal, state, and local level. There is the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Diane Ravitch and other outspoken leaders and advocates. There is the national Chamber of Commerce, ALEC, the National Education Association and the AFT. There are too many to list.

In summation, thousands of people each day make decisions that impact what is taught to whom by whom and for how long. They may be high-profile controversies like the ones in Texas. They may be subtle shifts (Race to the Top teacher evaluation). They may be standard practice such as school scheduling.

So here’s my point: it is coalitions of caring individuals and organizations that do the difficult, rare, and critical work of coming to agreement about what they will do, together, as a coalition, that can impact this mess of a democratic civic institution. And this difficult, rare, and critical work is exactly what Alameda is up to.

Quest for Environmental Justice: How Arts Learning Can Help – by Carl Anthony, Co-director, Breakthrough Communities

Many years ago when I was a Professor at the University of California College of Natural Resources, teaching one of the first university based courses on environmental justice several of my students were interested in teaching about environmental issues in multi racial schools. In our class discussions one day, a young woman became emotionally upset as she was describing her work as a volunteer in an after school program at a middle school in Berkeley. She was teaching the young people about separating compost for the garden, and cans, bottles, newspapers in kitchen containers for curbside recycling. It turned out that one of a dozen young people in the after school program, was homeless. She was living with her family in a car. Her mother, father and brother carried most of their belongings with them in the car, and got rid of the trash in waste containersaround the city. My student was devastated that the child was homeless and was upset that she didn’t know how to talk about this in the after school group. She wanted to know whether homelessness was an environmental issue.

At the other end of the spectrum, I heard the story of a middle school kid from West Oakland, who got a scholarship to go to a fancy private school in Marin County. The students in his class took turns in hosting pajama parties at their large and wealthy homes. When it came to his turn to host the pajama party, this young man invited a half dozen of his classmates to spend the weekend with him in the housing project where he lived in West Oakland. The kids from Marin County loved being in the ‘hood. They didn’t want to go home.

These stories illustrate the challenges of educating kids in a time of environmental devastaion. growing inequality, media hype, and demographic change. What should the learning of students be when parents have lost their jobs? What should it be when a father or brother has been sent prison? Or has been deported? How do we help the next generation cope with the realities of life as they experience it? How can we support them in building emotional resilience, hunger for knowledge, skills and robust leadership that our society will need to create a better future for everyone? How can we support attitudes of self-respect, excitement about learning, hope for changing the world? It seems to me, the arts have an important role to play here. With their paintings and sculptures, photographs and video documentaries, music and dramas, the arts can help our young people make sense of their world, giving them the confidence to reinvent the future.

One of the most exciting movements in the world today, that is reinventing our future is, the environmental justice movement. It is a large movement that needs the nourishment and creativity of the arts, and the tools of science and technology in support of a purposeful and sustainable economy. The environmental justice movement is a large movement. It brings together the pursuit of healthy communities, the greening of our cities, the saving of energy, the creation of opportunities for everyone, the end of homelessness and hunger, social and racial justice and the quest to save the planet.

We look forward to the upcoming Summer Institute “Inventing Our Future” August 7-9, 2012, where I will join with Professor Manuel Pastor from the University of Southern California in presentations and discussion of these topics. I also look forward to joining in an afternoon workshop on “Building Healthy Healthy Communities” at the Summer Institute, led by Paloma Pavel, PhD, CoDirector of Breakthrough Communities, and Jill Ratner, President of the Rose Foundation.

Carl Anthony
Co Director
Breakthrough Communities
Oakland, California

A New Territory for Partnership — by Joe Landon, Executive Director, CA Alliance for Arts Education

The Policy Council of the California Alliance for Arts Education is comprised of 40 organizations from around the state, representing the interests of education, business, arts and parents. It’s a natural forum in which to raise the question of how to expand and strengthen the impact of  partnerships in the work we do.

At our last meeting, Jeffry Walker presented the findings of a report commissioned by the California Alliance. Its conclusion underscored the point made in this blog, that partnerships are more effective than unilateral actions, and that we must seek new ways to bridge sectors of society as well as engage and serve diverse communities.

In order to ‘test out’ those findings, we invited the response of representatives from three unique sectors whose interests may overlap with arts education, but who until now have not been seen as natural  partners in the work we do. The organizations represented were Ed Trust West, whose work focuses on high academic achievement of all students; Preschool California, working to increase access to high quality early childhood education for all children; and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the union of professional stagehands, motion picture technicians, and allied crafts.

What we heard from their representatives reflected the recognition that arts education was not seen as a priority nor particularlyrelevant to their mission. Yet, as we discussed our individual missions, what emerged were the overlapping interests, whether connected to our shared commitment to provide every child with a complete education that includes the benefits of arts education, the importance of  ‘experiential’ learning opportunities throughout the educational experience, and the relevance of the arts to preparing students for careers in the workforce.

The conversation opened new territory for partnership and building a stronger base of support for schools and communities that support the aspirations of all children. As the statewide advocacy organization forarts education, we recognize the critical importance of that effort.


Joe Landon is the executive director of the California Alliance for Arts Education. His professional background includes being a speechwriter and senior consultant in the state assembly, a K-8 music and drama teacher, a preschool teacher, and a playwright, composer and  television writer.

Special Guest Bloggers Join the Conversation This Week!

This week, we have invited some Guest Bloggers to respond to the latest synthesis of ideas that are emerging from our conversations over the past 4 months.  We are so appreciative of their taking the time to lend their experience and wisdom so that we can emerge from this process with a set of shared ideas that will help multiple organizations, institutions and individuals collectively chart a path toward student success and healthy communities.

Let me introduce our bloggers, who will be posting throughout the week:

John Abodeely, Manager, National Partnerships, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, has worked for national arts and arts education organizations for about a decade. His specialties include systemic approaches to improving the access to untested subjects, trans-institutional coordination for mission-based work, and breakthrough strategy for nonprofits.

Carl Anthony, Co-director, Breakthrough Communities Project, is an architect, author and urban / suburban / regional design strategist, and has served as Acting Director of the Community and Resource Development Unit at the Ford Foundation. He was a founder and, for 12 years Executive Director, of the Urban Habitat Program in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Audrey Brown, Visual Arts Teacher, was selected as San Leandro High School Teacher of the Year 2009. She is the Chair of the San Leandro High School Art Department, and a practicing visual artist.

Dr. Mary Stone Hanley, Professor, Initiative for Transformative Education, George Mason University, has been an educator in pub­lic schools and higher education for more than 35 years. She is a playwright, screenwriter, and poet. In Cultural Responsiveness, Racial Identity and Academic Success: A Review of Literature In (prepared for the Heinz Endowments, June 2009)  she highlights the necessity to employ the arts as a means to racial uplift and building on student cultural assets.

Joe Landon, Executive Director of the California Alliance for Arts Education, whose professional background includes being a speechwriter and senior consultant in the state assembly, a K-8 music and drama teacher, a preschool teacher, and a playwright, composer and television writer.

Martha Montufar, Arts Education Consultant and Parent Educator, is an experienced program director, planner, trainer, facilitator, teaching artist and designer of curriculum for education programs and arts integration. Her recent work incorporates using the arts to engage students, their parents, teachers, and administrators in authentic partnership for increased student achievement.

Browning Neddeau is a fourth year Learning & Instruction doctoral student at the University of San Francisco where his research is focused on arts education.  He is an adjunct faculty member at the University of San Francisco and San Jose State University in their multiple subjects teacher credentialing programs.

Nancy Ng, Director of Community Development of Luna Dance Institute, has worked as a performing artist, choreographer and educator for her entire life, including a long tenure as choreographer, performer and administrator for Asian American Dance Performances. She holds a teaching credential from San Francisco State University and Ng received the first national award for mentorship from the National Dance Education Organization in 2003.

Dr. Lauren Stevenson, Junction Box Consulting, has been a leader in arts education for over 12 years. As the principal at Junction Box Consulting, she specializes in research and program development connecting arts, education, and youth development.