Laura Varlas

Whole Child Loses When Subjects Compete for $

Speech and theater saved Keegan Robinson, a shy student who could spit out standardized test answers but hadn't found the connection that would keep him coming back to school.

The dramatic arts brought him out of his shell and into the school community as a contributing member. He eventually won an academic scholarship to college.

Robinson, a former student of Bronx Preparatory Charter School in the South Bronx, N.Y., illustrates how essential a well-rounded education is to averting dropouts and, better yet, to nurturing career-, college-, and citizenship-ready young adults, said Bronx Prep arts educator Kate Quarfordt at Thursday's Capitol Hill briefing on policies that support balanced education.

Bronx Prep is located the poorest congressional district east of the Mississippi. "Kids in my neighborhood don't get a second chance," Quarfordt said.

We have to ask ourselves, she added, are our schools funneling kids into the dropout machine, or are we persuading kids to stay with us; graduate; and go on to college, career, and an engaged civic life?

She shared several other stories like Keegan's, where the "spirit of equality among disciplines" at South Bronx meant the difference between losing kids to the streets and changing lives for the better.

Quarfordt, and the other educators behind the more than 20 major organizations who have signed on to the well-rounded education consensus recommendations, provide the vital link between the classroom and education policy.

On the table for consideration: balanced representation of all the major disciplines in the coming ESEA reauthorization and federal funding schemes for education in FY11.

Although the Obama administration has proposed a $38.9 million (or 17%) increase in funding to support teaching and learning in the arts, history, civics, foreign languages, geography, and economics in the FY11 budget, the administration proposes combining eight subject-specific grant programs into a single competitive grant program. Disciplines would compete against each other to receive funds from the $265 million pot of money allocated under "A Well-Rounded Education" on the proposed FY11 budget.

The consensus recommendations presented on Thursday ask the U.S. Department of Education to amend this approach to promote collaboration, not competition, among the disciplines. Also important is a dedication to educator-developed standards of quality and accountability for all disciplines, not just language arts and math.

Forcing the disciplines to compete for funding runs the risk of perpetuating the status quo—a lopsided curriculum that offers no quarter for creativity or students like Keegan Robinson.

Comments (1)

Ann Barysh

August 4, 2010

Comments on policy recommendations for a well-rounded education

Good afternoon:

As the Director of History and Social Studies for an urban school system, I have witnessed with alarm the diminishing interest in History and Social Studies as the educational community hyper focuses on a narrow definition of what student achievement should be. Consequently I heartily endorse and support these recommendations. I fear that the Humanities, in particular, History and Social Studies is experiencing the phenomena of unintended consequences. As we rush to ensure that our students can read, write, compute and have the skills to live a decent life in the 21st century, we have eliminated Social Studies and History from our curriculum in order to provide ‘more time’ for drill and kill programs that prepare students for high-stakes tests. This is particularly the case in the elementary curriculum.

Sadly, we are creating students who might be reading and computing a bit better but also children who have not had the opportunity to explore who they are and who they could become. These students, because of some harsh educational dictates, will never have the opportunity to ask and study the questions that have intrigued humans since the dawn of history.

Such a lopsided education is not taking place in middle class or wealthy school districts where additional funds are made available to keep humanities and Social Science programs alive. Indeed, the students who have fallen victim to an AYP-driven world often come from the poorest communities where there are no resources to provide their children with the means to go on trips to the national parks, our country’s great cities or to distant continents for summer learning and renewal.

It is not lost on me the terrible irony that the very people who create educational policies that do not include funding for history, the humanities and the arts probably majored in government, history or some sort of combined humanities/social science discipline when they were in college. I also assume that their devotion and commitment to these disciplines have helped them to garner positions in government and foundation policy that they have found to be both personally fulfilling and lucrative. If this is the case, those of us who value the concept of a truly well-rounded education for all students, should support any measure that seeks to re-establish the importance of these critical programs in all our schools.

I should also add, that it would be unfortunate if this funding were to result in some sort of bureaucratic cynicism where to the casual observer, it looks as though the humanities and the arts are being supported by the Obama administration when, in fact, these poor cousins of the educational family are now being told to compete with one another for an ever diminishing piece of the family fortune.

However being an optimistic soul, I will assume that the above statement is not true and that the policy recommendations for a well-rounded education have been created to make sure that these critical areas of human inquiry are part of the main stream/core curriculum for all students; not just those students who come from well off communities where groups like Local Educational Foundations can kick in to continue the support of these disciplines when government funding or interest (?) iis no longer available or there and where the issue of making AYP is a non-issue.

Thank you for encouraging my comments. The right to argue and comment on governmental decisions in a manner that assumes a level of civility, literacy as well as a basic knowledge in civics and history is a value I cherish and one that should be taught and demonstrated to students throughout their years of study.

Ann Barysh
781-961-6220 x 519
Director of Social Studies and History
Randolph Public Schools
70 Memorial Parkway
Randolph Ma. 02368

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