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A recent report from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) suggests that arts education can help narrow the achievement gap that exists between low-income students and their more advantaged peers. But new data from the federal government suggests that low-income students are less likely to have access to arts education than their higher-income peers. 

Certainly arts education is important for its own sake. But in a time of tough budget choices, arts education advocates must speak to its tangible benefits, which the NEA report clearly does. By nearly every indicator studied, a student from a low-socioeconomic (SES) background with a high-arts educational experience significantly outperformed peers from a low-arts, low-SES background, closing (and in some cases eliminating) the gap that often appears between low-SES students and their more advantaged peers.

And not just the standardized test score gap. The report does show that low-SES eighth grade students who have a history of high arts engagement have higher science and writing scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) than those who do not. Such high school students had better GPAs than their low-arts, low-SES peers (and in some instances, than all students). But I was more impressed with some of the other outcomes ...

Editor’s Note: Our guest blogger today is Ann Meier Baker. She is President and CEO of Chorus America, the advocacy, research, and leadership development organization that advances the choral music field.  Her 25-year career has included several leadership positions in the arts and in education.

Students composing songs about chaos theory, tessellations, and the Fibonacci Sequence is just the beginning.

March is Music In our Schools Month and this annual celebration is a wonderful opportunity for people to sing (pun intended) the praises of outstanding school music programs that are an important part of a comprehensive and competitive education. Today, while there is an enormous amount of compelling evidence about the value of these opportunities for young people, the reality is that school music programs are being cut at an alarming rate, leaving some of us wondering if it’s more appropriate to sing a dirge this month, rather than a song in celebration.

For example, in national research commissioned for Chorus America’s Chorus Impact Study, more than one in four educators surveyed said there is no choral program in their school  and, of the educators who said that their school has no choir program today, 31 percent said their school used to have such a program. And yet these same educators also agree that choir participation helps make students better team players, develops stronger social skills, leads to better emotional expression and management, improves overall academic performance, and helps instill self-discipline. These are the very skills and strengths students will need as they come of age in the 21st century—as a society, we cannot afford to ...

As a member of the Millennial Generation, I couldn’t help but notice “The New Generation Gap in Schools,” an article in the March issue of the American School Board Journal, published by the National School Boards Association (NSBA) that asserts Millennials are arriving in schools – as parents – and that the public education community can prevent a new generation gap by earning our support.  I certainly agree.

The article’s generation profile says we are more diverse, racially tolerant, less conservative and less likely to have served in the military than the generations before us. We tend to be more liberal, socially and politically which may lead us to support public schools philosophically and theoretically, but does not automatically guarantee we will send our children to traditional public schools. ...

I appreciate research and data, particularly when results offer evidence on successful initiatives and best practices. Every now and then, I crave some anecdotal evidence, voices with stories from individuals whose journeys are often reduced to graphs, averages and groups of statistical significance. Kappan Magazine features a diverse series of articles for February, Black History Month, on educating black male students (black and Latino males in one case). The commentary is a reminder that thoughtful questions produce thoughtful answers and conclusions. How might we constructively acknowledge that there are differences between many black male youth and their more privileged peers? What should we expect of teachers and schools with regards to the education of black male students? And, how do resulting answers or conclusions affect various recommendations, initiatives and debates in education policy more broadly? ...

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library. Materials are added at the rate of 10,000 per day and the Copyright Office has a card catalogue with more than45 million card entries. It contains 838 miles of bookshelves and holds a collection of more than 147 million items. The Library is open to the public and its resources are available on-site in Washington D.C to anyone older than 16 with government issued identification. The American Memory Project – an effort to digitalize a large portion of the Library’s collection – has more than  9 million items available electronically, for free, to anyone with access to the internet. ...

Native American National Heritage Month is a chance to highlight a component of American history that is often overlooked.  Native American Heritage Month celebrates those, along with their tribal ancestors, who were here thousands of years before Columbus or Cortes set foot in North America. The unique nature of America’s immigration history results in distinct parameters for discussions on race, ethnicity and heritage and unprecedented diversity. While we all have our individual ancestral heritage, this land – our country – has a complex and rich history that is far older than that of America and the Declaration of Independence. If we still claim, or even think, that this land belongs to us, should we not celebrate its entire history? That journey reveals some uncomfortable moments and brings up challenging discussions; all the more reason to have them. History is not just the past and it should not be left without context and relevance. ...

We often speak of the importance of teaching students 21st century skills, especially what the Partnership for 21st Century Skills calls “the 4 Cs” – creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking. But what does that actually look like?   

Ask Bijal Damani. At the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum, this business teacher from India told me about a course-long project she uses to improve the 21st century skills of grade 11-12 students and to prepare them for the real-life challenges that they may face once they enter university and the job market.

In this project (which is also a competition), 120 students divide themselves into teams of ten. Each team then comes up with an innovative product that solves a problem to make the world better (so while something like chocolate flavored cigarettes is “innovative,” it wouldn’t count here).

Once the students decide on a product, they have to come up with a marketing plan for it. That plan must include a newspaper advertisement, a magazine advertisement, a radio jingle and a TV advertisement. They have to determine the price of their product. And they have to create a website for ...

In the Metro DC area, the Higher Achievement Program works to increase the educational opportunities for low-income middle school students who are eager for more rigor and support in their academic programming.  And it cannot keep up with demand, which says two things to me. First, the program is making a difference. And second, some children and parents in low-income areas are eager to engage with this type of learning opportunity.  In an era of budget cuts, public schools are being undermined in their mission to provide this opportunity to all children. This reality paints a troubling picture: a lack of resources holding back ambitious and dedicated young students who crave such support is quite simply, undermining our nation’s future one budget slash at a time. ...

Last week I had the interesting and mostly pleasant experience of attending two events showcasing issues in public preK-12 education on the same day:  one sponsored by the Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW), the education arm of the United States Chamber of Commerce, and the second hosted by the National Association for Elementary School Principals (NAESP) honoring America’s National Distinguished Principals.  As one would expect, the two organizations have very different perspectives on the status of public schools and the people who work in them.

With the exception of Steve Brill’s closing luncheon speech, the ICW meeting was generally balanced and featured interesting panel discussions around the event’s theme, “Race to the Top:  Are We There Yet?” (Never mind that we’re barely a year into the competitive, federally funded, state administered large scale initiative.  It’s lucky the first checks are in the mail much less that we’re “there”, wherever that might be.)  A couple of the panelists, Dan Cruce from the Delaware Department of Education and Pat Forgione from ETS in particular, provided reality based presentations on state department collaborations that work towards effective change management. ...

I may be able to afford my connection costs, but staying plugged-in is not cheap; a comparison of Comcast and Verizon shows prices between $69.99 and $100.00 a month, before taxes, for varying internet and cable packages.  For low-income families, prioritizing access comes after purchasing food, making loan payments, buying clothes and filling up the car with gas. Yet in the digital age, it’s becoming evident that children without basic technological skills will be at a disadvantage in the workforce and society. ...

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