LIVE & LEARN: More Rigor, Less Encore

| December 21, 2014 | 0 Comments | Columns

liveandlearnlogoRecently, I had the opportunity to meet an artist and extraordinary individual when the non-profit organization, The Arc of Greater Prince William, held a “Circle of Support” workshop for the parents, teachers and community members of Prince William County November 8.

For those who have not heard of The Arc, the organization is committed to providing opportunities for persons with developmental disabilities to achieve their greatest potential for growth and independence.

Dan Keplinger led the keynote address that day. Dan was born with cerebral palsy, but did not let his disability get in his way of achieving success. Dan is an amazing artist. His documentary, “King Gimp” won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2000. In that film, Dan revealed that a teacher encouraged his love of art, a teacher who believed in him and supported his desire to express himself through artist endeavors.

Meeting Dan got me thinking about opportunities for the art and practical sciences in schools, and how they seem to be diminishing.

I remember in “junior high school,” as it was called back then, I couldn’t wait to take elective classes. I made a wooden turtle in “shop,” without cutting off any fingers; vegetable soup and a green and gold stuffed basketball in home economics; a self-portrait (sort of) in art; and a simple program on a computer that was about the size of my classroom.

As a student who did just what needed to be done and nothing more, I thrived in my elective classes. I could be creative and different and think outside of the box: something I was unable to do in my other four required classes.

In my last article, I discussed the ramifications of No Child Left Behind and the push to focus on math and reading improvement. Yet another unintended consequence of No Child Left Behind is the fact that Encore classes in America’s schools are rapidly becoming a dying breed. The benefits of these special classes are real; however, education’s direction of high-stakes testing makes these classes difficult for students to actually attend.

“Since 2007, almost 71% of schools have reduced some instruction time in history, arts, language and music, in order to give more time and resources to math and reading. In some schools, the classes remain available but individual students who are not proficient in basic skills are sent to remedial reading or math classes rather than arts, sports, or other optional subjects” (Pederson, P. (2007). What Is Measured Is Treasured: The Impact of the No Child Left Behind Act on Nonassessed Subjects. Clearing House, 80(6), 287–291. Retrieved from Education Research Complete database).

Conversations with colleagues across the state and nation indicate several problems with less Encore instruction:

  • Students who receive failing scores on state standardized tests are, on a daily basis, pulled out of Encore classes for remediation in math and reading.
  • In many elementary schools, there is only one encore teacher or specialist; thus these teachers have anywhere from 800 – 1,000 students.
  • Because many elementary schools only have one encore teacher or Specialist, the rotation for seeing students can range anywhere from five to eight days. How effective and consistent is instruction when the teacher only sees a class every eight days?
  • Some middle school rotations are anywhere from three to five days. Again, how effective and consistent is instruction when you see a class every five days?

Education in America needs a paradigm shift! If we continue on this destructive path of toxic testing, we will continue to produce generations of children who cannot think critically, analyze different points of view or problem solve. Art, PE, music, technology education and family & consumer science are JUST as important as math, reading, foreign language, science and social studies. We are sending our children out into the world who only know how to bubble in letters. That’s not what education is about! If success in all subjects is the goal, including the Arts in Education will do just that!

So, as I reflect on my meeting with Dan Keplinger and think about his love of art and what was done to accomplish his goal of creating beautiful pieces of art, I can’t help but also think about those students who struggle and are constantly pulled out of their Encore classes for remediation.

What about a future Beethoven? A future Picasso? A future Julia Child? A future Jesse Owens? A future Frank Lloyd Wright? What a travesty to say to a child: “You’re struggling in one or more classes, so we are going to pull you out of the classes in which you are being successful.” That is absolutely unacceptable! We are not teaching one part of the child – we are teaching the whole child!

Riley O’Casey with artist, Dan Keplinger

© 2014, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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