The Education Innovator #45
Volume II
Archived Information

The Education Innovator
 November 29, 2004 • Number 45
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What's inside...
Arts-Based Education, Aldine Independent School District, Houston, Texas
What's New
Assistant Deputy Secretary Nina Rees speaks on panel at the American Enterprise Institute; the American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE) recognizes "public charter schools of high distinction;" Denver Connections Academy receives grant from the Colorado Department of Education's Read to Achieve program; and High Tech High in Los Angeles dedicates $13 million school campus.
Innovations in the News
National Public Radio's Performance Today took a week-long look at the state of music education in America's schools, plus information on arts education, charter schools, choice, and teaching American history.

"A" is for Aldine and the Arts
Mr. Hall started the lesson at Jewell Houston Academy by discussing the geometric design woven into a Navajo rug. The students looked at the patterns in the rug. They placed geometric shapes on paper to make their own rug designs. Then, beginning with the largest triangle, they identified the hypotenuse by first identifying the right angle. They then analyzed the equation a2+b2=c2 to determine the length of the sides of the triangle. They measured sides "a" and "b" to complete and solve the equation for side "c." Mr. Hall, like many teachers in the Aldine Independent School District in Houston, Texas, was using visual arts as a hook to teach abstract concepts to his fifth grade students.

Jewell Houston Academy, and one of its sister schools, Bethune Academy belong to a cluster of 13 magnet schools that are part of a sequential and cumulative arts program for students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12. Plagued by low test scores and low school attendance, the Aldine district developed this arts-infused curriculum, which was founded on research showing that training in the arts could enhance student learning in core academic subjects and could improve student attendance. The district also partnered with several organizations—consortium of universities (University of Houston, Texas Southern University, Rice University), Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, Young Audiences, and the Texas Commission of the Arts—to ensure the rigor of the curriculum content.

Bethune Elementary was one of the schools in the district that needed particular help. The Texas Assessment of Academic Skills summary report indicated that 64 percent of Bethune's students were at risk: their math and reading skills were two or more years below grade level; they had poor attendance; and they needed to strengthen their English language skills.

A new Bethune Academy for Mathematics, Science, and Fine Arts opened in 1996 as a magnet school "to be a resonant combination of the arts interwoven with other core disciplines." Since then, it has instituted a program called "Keeping the Arts in Mind," which has unique characteristics. The school has been an "intermediate school" with only fourth and fifth grade students*. It focuses on four arts areas—drama, dance, music, and the visual arts—with the campus divided into eight instructional "communities," each with mathematics, science, language arts, and social studies core curriculum teachers.

In the beginning, Bethune redefined the classroom schedule into a 10-day rotation. This allowed the arts educators to be with the core curriculum teachers so that they could develop curriculum that addressed students' learning deficiencies, as exhibited on standardized test scores, and could jointly plan instruction and staff development.

As a result of this collaboration, units of study were created. Titles of some of these units include: "Voices Across America," a nationally recognized mural designed for the people of New York after September 11, which combined language arts and visual arts; and "Amistad," a drama about the historic struggle of 53 Africans to return to their homeland after a long imprisonment in the U.S.

In order to ensure that the specialized arts program could be implemented successfully, the district invested in targeted teacher training and offered two areas of professional development: 1) a two-week summer institute with entertainers and artists, and 2) an online learning environment to guide teachers through the process of designing arts-based projects, assessments, and effective communications with students and parents.

Today, in addition to the arts activities, technology plays an important role in supporting the arts-infused curriculum at Bethune. Closed circuit television is used to show productions performed by professional artists and to broadcast art lessons by specialists to all classrooms. Bethune and the other schools in the arts magnet cluster have labs that students can use with stations for photography, word processing, graphic design, and Internet web-page development.

Valuing the arts is what motivates Bethune's students, teachers, and parents alike. The enthusiasm for the program sustains student involvement throughout the school day and into the after school programs in which most students participate. Parents choose to send their children to the school, often driving long distances (there is limited bus transportation), because of the arts culture and its reputation for strong test scores.

Over the past few years, Bethune has seen great leaps in achievement. In 2003, 75 percent of fourth graders were proficient in math, and 72 percent in reading. In 2004, 96 percent of the then-fifth graders passed the state math exam (compared to 82 percent for the state); 88 percent passed the state reading test (compared to 79 percent for the state); and 84 percent passed the state science test (compared to 69 percent for the state).

As part of Aldine's sequential and cumulative arts program, Bethune requires students to choose a "major" and a "minor" in an arts area and in a core subject. The Performing Arts Education Program, for example, emphasizes such areas as Suzuki string and piano classes, advanced dance, theatre arts, and music classes. The district encourages all students to develop their skills beyond novice levels, and it works with the community to provide arts apprenticeships and links to the broad-range impact on the arts in business and society.

The Aldine Independent School District received an Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination Grant from OII for the program at Bethune Academy.

*Aldine ISD recently realigned its magnet schools. Bethune Academy is now an elementary school for third and fourth grades only. Bethune's curriculum has been adjusted to accommodate younger students; however, the focus is still math, science, and fine arts.

Resources: Note: The featured program is an example of one school district's approach to school reform. The program is innovative, but does not necessarily have evidence of general effectiveness from a rigorous evaluation. The success of the program may not be replicable, depending on unique conditions in differing locations.


What's New
From OII

Assistant Deputy Secretary Nina Rees will speak on a panel at the American Enterprise Institute on the administration's plans for No Child Left Behind and what new policies the administration will pursue. The session will be Monday, December 6 at 2:00 P.M. (Nov. 29)

Charter Schools

The American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE) has been recognizing "public charter schools of high distinction" throughout the fall semester. The W.E.B. Dubois Academy in Cincinnati, OH, for example, was a State Superintendent's School of Promise for exceeding Ohio standards and working with low-income communities. (Nov. 23)

High Tech High in Los Angeles recently dedicated its $13 million school campus, which was built through a collaboration of the public sector, private foundations and high tech companies. (Nov. 17)

Denver Connections Academy, public virtual school for grades K-8, received a grant from the Colorado Department of Education's Read to Achieve program to create individualized programs for struggling readers. (Nov. 16)


Innovations in the News

Arts Education
Herstwood School in England has taken the first step toward being designated a "specialist arts school" (a school recognized by the government for the education of young people with demonstrated talent in the arts). The school has raised £ 50,000 from private and charitable trust sponsors and local firms. If arts status is approved, the school will receive £100,000 in government grants, allowing construction of additional facilities, with an extra £600,000 over the following four years. [More-Borehamwood & Elstree Times] (Nov. 19)

Young Audiences of Atlanta will be a new division of the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta. Young Audiences has successfully worked with local schools to help economically disadvantaged children develop crucial reading readiness skills. [More-The Weekly] (Nov. 17)

National Public Radio's Performance Today took a week-long look at the state of music education in America's schools. The series featured interviews with U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Richard Deasy, Director of the Arts Education Partnership, which is supported in part by OII. [More-NPR] (Nov. 15)

The National Dance Association (NDA) has released Seeing While Being Seen, a collection of photographs of dancers with quotes about how the dancers use photography to critique their work and perfect their art. This book aims to document dance positions to help dance students model behavior and better understand movement. NDA is an association of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. [More-NDAWebsite (Nov. 2004)

Charter Schools
Propel-Homestead, housed in a former hospital building, is the first of a local nonprofit chain of seven charter schools that Propel plans to open over five years in Western Pennsylvania. Children from 11 districts attend Propel-Homestead with the largest number—134—the district in which the charter school is located. [More-Post-Gazette] (Nov. 7)

The school committee in Springfield, MA, is considering a massive restructuring of its regular and alternative high schools to offer students more choice and decrease overcrowding. One option is to open the International Baccalaureate program to all students. [More-The Republican] (Nov. 21)

Teaching American History
Cheryl Brown Henderson, the daughter of one of the plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education, discussed myths about the case and its ongoing relevance at a symposium in Reno, NV. The symposium was sponsored by the Teaching American History Project, which provides professional development for teachers in Northern Nevada and is supported by a grant from OII. [More-Reno Gazette-Journal] (Nov. 15)


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