Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dear Allentown School Board: Make the Arts Mandatory Core Subjects

Cityscape by 5th grade ASD student

Dear School Board Director: 

 I am concerned about the well being of my child and all ASD children. I'm a parent, a former ASD art teacher, and a current substitute teacher. I believe ASD students are being unfairly denied equal opportunities for a quality education. I am concerned because the school curriculum is being narrowed to only what is tested and measured by data, with the primary goal being to boost standardized test scores, instead of providing a rich curriculum. Children are not data points, they are humans. All children need a variety of opportunities to be creative, and to discover their talents at school. 

I am concerned because there are plans to possibly eliminate 150 teaching positions, and completely eliminate related arts specialists at all elementary schools, and maybe some at the middle schools. I believe that only certified specialists are qualified to teach a comprehensive, quality arts program, and our kids deserve this high quality. Our children get only one chance at an education, and I want more than "the minimum" for my child and all ASD children. 

The arts, physical education, and library science, taught by certified specialists, are essential to the school curriculum, and should never be cut or reduced. The arts should be valued on their own, but also because they help reinforce concepts children learn in math, science and social studies. The arts help children develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, fine motor skills, social skills, appreciation for other cultures, self-awareness, joy, sense of accomplishment, self discipline, and the arts help children to create meaning in their own lives. These are all skills and qualities our children will need to be successful, healthy participants in a democracy. And arts programs also motivate children to stay in school.

Our children also deserve a safe and stable learning environment where all their needs are met. ASD students have many needs. Removing teachers from schools harms vulnerable children, and destabilizes their learning environment. If academic needs of students are not met due to staff reductions, narrowing of curricula, and teaching to the test, I believe this is not only a disservice to our children and community, but it is educational malpractice. 

I suggest that our school board mandates that the subjects of art, music, physical education, and library be CORE academic subjects that cannot be cut from the curriculum because of budget cuts. This was done in the Los Angeles Unified School District, so why can't it be done in Allentown? Our children deserve the same quality arts programs as students in Parkland and other suburban districts. Anything less would be an injustice to our children.

If Allentown can find $300 million for an arena why can't we can't find $300 million for our school children!

(I sent this to all school board directors, and Dr. Mayo)

UPDATE: From Erin Gough at the PA Arts Education Network: "Regarding the Arts as part of the core curriculum.  They already are.  They are listed as core under the Federal Elementary and Secondary Act (No Child Left Behind) and in the Pennsylvania Public School Code:

Pennsylvania Public School Code
Article 13, Section 1326

(1)  At the elementary school level, the following courses are taught: English, to include spelling, reading and writing; arithmetic; science; geography; history of the United States and Pennsylvania; civics; safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires; health and physiology; physical education; music; and art.

(2)  At the secondary school level, the following courses are offered: English, to include language, literature, speech and composition; science, to include biology and chemistry; geography; social studies, to include civics, economics, world history, history of the United States and Pennsylvania; a foreign language; mathematics, to include general mathematics and statistics, algebra and geometry; art; music; physical education; health and physiology; and safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires.
One of the largest issues facing arts programs is that while they are required in the code, there is currently no formalized statewide assessment or Fine Arts and Humanities Advisors in the Pennsylvania Department of Education so districts feel free to eliminate programs that are not a state-level priority.  They are not being accountable for having them, or having them to a certain degree. "

But individual districts can make arts a priority and NOT CUT THE ARTS, since they are considered "core academic subjects, of the same importance as math, science and the humanities." (See PA Senate Resolution No.55, and House Resolution No. 146.)