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?

Please join the conversation and follow us on Twitter and Facebook

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.

Report from the Synthesis Team: An Emerging Roadmap

This past March, we embarked on a process to “Map the Next 10 Years.” We focused our attention on two key ideas.

The first was about making a collective impact, the idea that we should think beyond our individual organizations to how a broader “we” could coordinate creative efforts to make broad and lasting change toward student success and healthy communities.

The second was the idea that having conversations with each other about what matters most and employing authentic listening was the first step in making a collective impact.

With these key ideas in mind, we embarked on a set of self-organized conversations throughout the Bay Area around the question:

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

We had three goals:

  • Build muscles around network engagement: authentic, meaningful conversations, both face-to-face and online
  • Align around a shared vision for 2023 and a roadmap for how to get there
  • Clearly communicate this vision and plan

Since then, there have been over a dozen self-organized conversations that we know about and many more that we don’t, representing well over 100 people in total. A number of participants shared what they discussed on this blog.

The Alliance for ALL Steering Committee involved volunteer community members in a Synthesis Team that met monthly since April to make sense of the conversations that were happening and to reflect this back to the larger community.

We see five key themes emerging. At its core is a dual vision that is deeply intertwined. It starts with a Better Future for Everyone.

The path toward creating that future includes Building on What’s Working, Mapping Our Assets, and going From “You” and “Me” to “We.”

If we do these things successfully, we can create A Resilient, Sustainable System.

All five of these themes are tightly interdependent ideas with lots of overlap. I’d like to describe each of them in more detail and connect them to things the Synthesis Team has been hearing, both through this blog and directly in conversation. More importantly, I’d like to hear from you. What resonates here? What’s missing? What does this make you think about? Please add your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

A Better Future for Everyone

A strong, emerging theme from the conversations is that all of this work is ultimately about assuring that every child receives a complete education to achieve his or her greatest potential, and that every child is able to make his or her full contribution to a better future for everyone. The arts are essential to a complete education, as they uniquely engage students in school and provide opportunities to develop skills that are necessary for success in learning across the curriculum and in life.

The emerging vision is that:

  1. It begins with us: you and me.  Each of us must make our personal contribution toward assuring that…
  2. Every child has multiple and ongoing opportunities to grow, develop and learn in and through the arts, as an essential practice for meaning-making, idea generation and problem solving, so that…
  3. Every child is purposefully engaged in school and graduates with the skills, dispositions and enthusiasm to contribute to the common good and creating a better future for everyone

Building on What’s Working

It is clear from the conversations that there are many great examples of things that are already working well. As a result of the previous strategic planning work, a professional development system has been built that connects the amazing professional development opportunities in the community (through Teaching Artists Organized) to the Integrated Learning Specialist Program, which builds leadership capacity in schools in the Bay Area that are demonstrating the power of the arts to deepen and improve learning and that are disseminated through multiple summer institutes.

Through this professional system of learning and networking, pockets of excellence become communities of practice and are influencing and shaping larger systems. At a time when public education is undergoing a huge and necessary transition, we have a foundation for working together to shape the next set of instructional practices and the next generation of assessments.

As we build on what works, we need to build on the experience of educators, students and parents. These voices are critical as we make decisions about measuring our impact, being clear about our collective objectives, defining, identifying, and agreeing on what data to look at and how to interpret success.

Mapping Our Assets

We can’t build on what’s working unless we can all collectively see what those things are. By mapping our assets, we can build on what’s working, and we can also mind the gaps.

People are our greatest assets. If we are to achieve our shared vision of a better future for everyone, it will require shared and expanded leadership among all stakeholders. We need to identify all of the different kinds of leadership that are currently being practiced, and to expand the leadership so that it is diverse, inclusive and connected.

One way to accomplish all of these things is to create spaces — both physical as well as online — for communicating about what we are all doing and identifying mutually reinforcing activities, economies of scale, and ways that expertise and resources can be leveraged to address issues of equity and access.

From “You” and “Me” to “We”

This idea emerges from a recognition that the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.  We can never accomplish individually what we can accomplish together. While individually we are capable of great work, lasting and sustained social change requires our united efforts.

But not everyone comes to the work from the same starting place. Some of us are passionate about bringing new audiences to arts venues, while others are passionate about professionalizing the role of the teaching artist, or developing STEAM initiatives, or addressing the unacceptable drop out rate.

We must start by honoring everyone’s reality and humanity. That starts by having authentic, meaningful conversations and by listening deeply to each other. This roadmapping process was designed to kickstart that, and it needs to continue on an ongoing basis.

As many of you have engaged in these conversations with each other, many of you have reported that you’re realizing that we all have a lot more in common than we originally thought, and that we may be holding mistaken assumptions about other people.

We need to continue to be in conversation, and to listen deeply to each other and think about how we can work with others to accomplish shared goals. We need to think about ways that we can support each other and help each other see the bigger picture and broader opportunities.

A Resilient, Sustainable System

If we:

  • Share a vision for a better future for everyone crafted by assuring that all children grow, develop, and learn to their fullest potential
  • Build on what’s working
  • Map our assets
  • Shift our mindsets from “you” and “me” to “we”

We will be able to work together across institutions and areas of expertise to influence the system as a whole to become more resilient, sustainable, supportive, and responsive to the changing needs of our communities.

What do you think? Does this resonate with you? What’s missing? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Empty desks in DC

Empty desks in DC

photo from NY Times, Adeshina Emmanuel 6.20.2012  click for direct link to the article

875 desks represent the number of students who drop out of HS every hour. This installation was organized by the College Board, part of their Don’t Forget Ed! campaign. Although I have problems with the power the College Board holds I think they have it right with this flash mob of furniture. Certain group actions that result in a visual tell a frustrating story very well – much better than a talking head and more tempting to share, like, link etc.

With this installation were folks gathering comments and 22,000 signatures to be sent to our presidential candidates: “If you want my support, I need to hear more from you about how you plan to fix the problems with education. And not just the same old platitudes. I want to know that you have real, tangible solutions, and that once in office, you’re ready to take serious action. I’ll be watching your acceptance speech at your party’s convention.”

What is the image that fits with the work we are doing and the catagories being mapped and prioritized ?

Amplifying Youth and Parent Voice to Activate Socially Just Policy Change

The Communication for Motivating Change Oversight Committee is a power-house group of leaders representing Youth Leadership and Youth Artists, Parent Leaders locally and statewide, and experts in communications and lobbying. This group had a conversation about how to collectively transform public education through the arts on May 23, 2012 –

This group will review the synthesis that emerges from the overall conversations, and use it to guide their leadership, decisionamking, community organizing and communications and policy agenda in 2012-13
Mapping the Next 10 Years Conversation
Our Vision for 2023
The arts are in every school, every day.
There is so much arts funding that arts organizations are struggling to keep up and find ways to resources effectively.
Workers are required to take a 10 minute creative work break every day.
In the future, if a child opens a Time Capsule from 2012 he will be shocked to find out about bubble tests, school schedule with no arts, the CA State Budget and Art Teachers getting “Pink Slips”.
There is no need for on-going advocacy. Everybody accepts and supports the value of Arts.
Arts are integrated into all subjects; and there are full scholarships for teachers who attend and participate in Arts learning trainings. Deep connections are established among arts organizations.

In terms of developing youth voice, parent voice and policy change……
There are strong examples of youth voice amplified through arts that begins wiht youth experience, draws on community connections, and develops strong artistic skills so that students are creating new culture

Cross-age Relevance Cross-cultural
Radiates out
Media Performances

There is now both a statewide and regional focus on the arts as a learning and engagement tool for parents and families.
Opportunities and successful models are in place, such as the California PTA School Smarts program, 100 Families Alameda County and Art Esteem organizing in West Oakland. CAPTA has position statements on the importance of the arts for the whole child.

Arts Learning Leaders have successfully built relationships in the Bay Area so that local, state and federal policymakers consult with and listen to us. We have shaped a conversation about the need for new performance assessments that require, rather than push out, deeper learning in and through arts.
We have made progress on our policy agenda as evidenced by a new generation of assessments that will be performance based, and the statewide Create CA initiative to bring arts into California schools.
We need to build a popular movement where people understand the power of arts towards a better and shared vision for a future that is socially just.
We need to demystify the political and policy processes in order to support more people to present ideas, develop voices and network. We need to popularize what the issues are and the strategies for building equity and fair distribution of resources.
Organizations working with youth need to collaborate and aggregate the power of youth voice and vision. We must involve youth as essential leaders in the social change effort.
We must get out of the arts education silo and connect with STE(A)M initiatives, pre-schools, common core, etc.
How are Arts a part of the solution?

Identify who we want to communicate with and what we need to do to communicate well. We need to communicate shared values.
Consider how the arts connect youth (all of us) to our future and our dreams.

Create pathways (through collaboration) so that the public can see what kids are doing.