The Need for Arts Education

by David Andrew Snider

Recently I talked with a board member from Theatre Communications Group (TCG), of which YPT is a member.   The TCG board was reaching out to all its members to find out what’s happening in our organizations and how TCG can better support us.  At the end of the conversation came the big question:  “Besides fundraising,” (which is assumed right now) “what’s your biggest challenge today?”  “Ensuring our relevance,” I said immediately.  “What do you mean?”

It’s a critical time for arts education and for live theatre in general.   While so many people spend more and more of their time in the virtual world, our work can be more important than ever.  To keep us connected, to keep us talking, to keep us alive to one another.  When push comes to shove and we’re talking about cuts to school budgets for books, to shelter, food and clothing providers, so many people today, even in nonprofits, will say “well, it’s not like the arts are a human service.”  To which I say, and said to the DC City Council last summer “The arts are a human service.  They are a human service.”  As much as we need to eat, sleep and clothe ourselves to be human, we need to express ourselves.  We need to be able to share with our neighbors and the rest of the world what’s bothering us, how others can help us and what we fear or dream of for our future.  When we cut off self-expression, when we deny the inherent need to communicate and be heard, we see the frustration and violence that results.  We see the school shootings, the fights in the hallway, the teen suicide.  We see how social media has again sparked in all of us the itch to be known, to see and be seen, to always be in touch.  So as we’re ensuring that critical needs are met in these challenging times, I think we need to consider not only what will get us through the night, through the next month or next couple of years, but also what we want to be, look like and represent when we get through it.  What kind of society do we want to have?  How do we know what people need if they can’t tell us?  And how can we envision our future if we’re not able to dream?

Theater Education Failed America

by Elizabeth Andrews

In “How We Failed Theater” Jerome Weeks’ great response to Mike Daisey’s “How Theater Failed America,” Mr. Weeks makes the case that theater education (or the lack thereof) is a major factor in the decline of the American theater. He speaks of his wife’s struggles to teach theater to students at a public high school, and the numerous watered down school assembly performances that youth are routinely subjected to.  The best part of this post is that Daisey and Sara Weeks respond in the comments. Sara’s writing about why theater teacher perservere struck a chord with me:

“The spectrum of [my students’] life experience and arts experience is wide and narrow at the same time. My frustrations are often with my own sense of failure… I can never do enough to bridge this gap. In my heart I know Theater saves people. On good days, it saves me and my little Thespians, Drama Queens and aspiring Techies.” – Sara Weeks

To read Jerome Weeks’ Article click here.

A Guide to Acronyms and Agencies in DC’s Arts Education Landscape

by Brigitte Pribnow Moore

As an LEA, DCPS is under pressure from NCLB to meet AYP each year. Thanks to Title I of the ESEA, the most underserved schools have more resources to help students meet DCPS Learning Standards when the OSSE administers the DC CAS this year. Isn’t the NAEP happening soon as well? Better consult the OPGD for information on upcoming funding opportunities for arts educators. Hopefully the DCCAH can help this spring. Too bad so few government funders accept the WRAG.

Say what?

Need some help navigating the alphabet soup of DC’s arts education landscape? Here are some handy definitions and online resources:

LEA – Local Education Agency, which may include a school district, or a charter school. 

DCPS – District of Columbia Public Schools.

NCLB – No Child Left Behind, United States federal legislation signed into law January 8, 2002, aimed at improving the performance of U.S. primary and secondary schools by 2014, by:

  • Increasing standards of accountability for states, school districts and schools;
  • Providing parents with more flexibility in choosing which schools their children attend;
  • Increasing focus on teaching every student to read;
  • Re-authorizing the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965 (ESEA), a statute which funds primary and secondary education.

President Obama recently laid out his proposal for a complete overhaul of No Child Left Behind, which is currently being considered by Congress. Check out this recent Washington Post article  for more information.

ESEA – Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965 – statute reauthorized under NCLB, funding primary and secondary education, specifically for educators’ professional development, instructional materials, resources to support educational programs, and promotion of parental involvement

Title I – First Title of the ESEA, distributes funding to schools and school districts with 40% or more students from low-income families (qualifying under U.S. Census definitions of low-income).

AYP – Adequate Yearly Progress, a measurement defined by the U.S. No Child Left Behind Act that allows the U.S. Department of Education to demonstrate a school’s progress towards reaching the national goal of 100% student proficiency in Reading and Mathematics in all schools by the year 2014. Standardized assessments are used as a diagnostic tool that determines how schools need to improve and where financial resources should be allocated. All K-12 DC public schools are required to demonstrate AYP in the area of reading/language arts, mathematics, and either graduation rates, for high schools and districts, or attendance rates, for elementary and middle/junior high schools. A school that fails to meet AYP for two consecutive years becomes a “School in Need of Improvement”. A school that fails to meet AYP for five consecutive years may be “Restructured”.

DC BAS – DC Benchmark Assessment System, which helps DCPS track student progress and achievement throughout the year for students in grades 3-10.

DC CAS – DC Comprehensive Assessment System, which is administered once a year in DCPS classrooms and demonstrates how well students are meeting grade-level standards in the areas of English Language Arts and Mathematics. Every DC Public School has been assigned an NCLB status based upon its performance on the DC CAS. Every year a school does not meet AYP,  it is “flagged” with a status that requires more attention to that school. If a school does not meet AYP for five years in a row, it enters “restructuring” status requiring a significant school turnaround. The test is taken by students in grades 3-8 and grade 10, and administered each April.

OSSE – Office of the State Superintendent for Education, which sets statewide policies, provides resources and support, and exercises accountability for all public education in DC, including managing the DC CAS.

NAEP – National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is a test that is taken nationally and allows each state to compare its students with students in other states.

OPGD Office of Partnerships and Grants Development, a DC agency that establishes partnerships between public and private, for-profit and nonprofit organizations, and pursues financial support and technical assistance from public and private sources toward improving the quality of life for DC residents. OPGD has a wonderful website that shares upcoming DC grant opportunities.

DCCAH – DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, a DC agency with a mission “to provide grants, programs and educational activities that encourage diverse artistic expressions and learning opportunities, so that all District of Columbia residents and visitors can experience the rich culture of our city.” They provide a variety of competitive grants for both organizations and individual artists.

WRAG – Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, which promotes and supports effective, strategic, and efficient charitable investment in the Greater Washington region. They have established a Common Grant Application format, aimed at making the grant process more efficient, which is used by many funders in the DC region.

Hope this list is helpful. Does anyone have any other suggestions for acronyms we should include?