PCAH Co-Moderates White House Champions of Change: Arts in EducationPCAH Co-Moderates White House Champions of Change: Arts in Education

On July 19, Mary Schmidt Campbell, Vice-Chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) and Dean of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, co-moderated a roundtable for the White House series Champions of Change. Champions of Change is an apt title for the periodic sessions organized by the White House around some of country's most intractable issues.  Leaders in the private sector, nominated by their peers, and selected by the White House, are, indeed, Champions, heroes who in their day to day lives make a profound difference. At the invitation of the White House, they gather in Washington to present the visionary solutions they and their organizations have implemented. On July 19, 2011, Champions of Change assembled to discuss the role the arts has played in improving public school education.

Hailing from all over the country, the education Champions, nine educators from a mix of programs, convened in Washington. They came from a variety of professions: a school superintendent, principals, several not-for-profit CEO's, and representatives of a variety of educational and cultural organizations joined the Creative Coalition, a committed group of artists active in the entertainment industry, who serve as advocates and vocal supporters of the arts to discuss specific examples of the arts as change agents for educational achievement.

“We know from the President’s Committee’s recent report “Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools”  of the compelling evidence that building creativity-rich schools and integrating arts strategies into classroom instruction is vital to preparing students for success in the knowledge and innovation economy. These private sector leaders, nominated by their peers, and selected by the White House, are making this a reality on the ground. Their stories and expertise are both inspiring and instructive for other leaders and colleagues in effecting change,” said Dr. Campbell.

Peter Cunningham, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach, U.S. Department of Education set the stage by reminding participants that schools are in crisis, citing dropout rates, declining performance indicators and the dissatisfaction of American business with the preparation of students. He stressed that both President Obama and Secretary Duncan believe that improving our country's public schools is critical to the country's future. Secretary Duncan authored the introduction to the PCAH's report, emphasizing that that the infusing arts into education is has proved an effective strategy for improving our nation's schools.

Among the educators there were decades of experience with arts programs and their impact. Below is just a small sampling of their observations about the arts as change agents.

Scott Dawson of Clark State Community College in Springfield Ohio directs Project Jericho. Juveniles who had been incarcerated in the Clark County Juvenile Detention Center who participated in Project Jericho's in-depth arts experiences had lower rates of recidivism than those who did not participate.

Principal and Founder of MS 223,The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology, a middle school in the South Bronx, Ramon Gonzalez observed the impact of arts programming on behavior and engagement. Noticing that absenteeism clustered around Fridays and Mondays, Gonzales scheduled arts programming on those days and documented a marked improvement in attendance as a result. He refers to the arts as "an instrument of reform."

Principal Christine Harrison leads the Millwood Arts Academy and Freshmen Academy in Oklahoma City. Since 2006, when she adopted an arts integration model in partnership with Oklahoma's A+ Schools, she has recorded not only significant academic gains in her students, but also reports that her teachers are more engaged and effective.. Integrating the arts gives her teachers more tools.

Aaron Dworkin, MacArthur Fellow and CEO of Sphinx, an outstanding youth symphony orchestra, reminded us of the potential of high level arts training to make substantial gains in the cultural community.  Sphinx provides classical music training to Detroit residents and at its several subsidiaries at various locations around the country.  Dworkin points out that several of the recent increases in the numbers of musicians of color in our county's great orchestras can be traced back to Sphinx.

Superintendent Dr. Kevin Maxwell has taken advantage of his position to make district-wide changes in Maryland.  Superintendent of the Anne Arundel County Public Schools since June 2006, he has focused on Arts Integration strategies as a means of improving learning for students who may not  respond to conventional teaching approaches.

"Big Thought," is an organization that develops partnerships between Dallas City Schools and over 100 arts organizations to enhance learning opportunities.  CEO Gigi Antoni observed that the most dramatic academic gains were often made when the arts were brought to bear on the most disadvantaged students.

Joan Katz Napoli represented the educational  outreach work of the Cleveland Orchestra in the public schools of the city. Its Arts Integration program, for example, now in its 14th year, uses music to support learning across the K-5 curriculum.

Robbie Owen, an elementary school principal for the past 22 years in Spanish Fort, Alabama, testified that his arts rich curriculum has helped his students gain and maintain high academic achievement.

Amy Rasmussen, Executive Director of Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE)  has supporting data to show that students’ academic success, critical thinking,  and creativity have flourished through research-based , arts driven education.

All of the educators work with low income students, and have seen the arts improve engagement of students and teachers, academic scores, and achievement gaps.

Responding to the educators' presentations, Creative Coalition President Tim Daly suggested a follow up roundtable that would include business leaders to present this evidence of arts education as an effective "instrument of public school reform." He also pledged the support of the Creative Coalition to help get this message out to the un-converted.

Secretary Cunningham offered the assistance of his office as well in getting out the message and suggested that our target audience begin with the worst performing schools in the most populous states.

For full bios and more details see  Champions of Change.