continental divide

As in L.A., city advocates call for arts to be seen more as "core"

City Councilmember Robert Jackson speaks at a protest against cuts to arts education on the steps of City Hall.
City Councilman Robert Jackson protested against cuts to arts education on the steps of City Hall in June 2011.

A move made in Los Angeles last week to elevate arts classes to a special status is unlikely to be repeated in New York City soon, despite exhortations from local arts advocates.

L.A. school board members unanimously approved a resolution to make arts a “core subject,” or one considered essential to students’ education. The proposal was aimed at insulating arts from further budget cuts and laying groundwork for a restoration of arts funding within five years.

“The use of the term ‘core’ says that every child will be entitled to it, and when you use the word ‘core,’ there’s a financial expectation attached to it,” the district’s top — and only — arts official told Southern California Public Radio. “So when cuts are made, now that the arts are core, cuts will need to be spread across all the disciplines. Now the arts can be seen as important as social studies, science, math and language arts.”

New York City technically includes arts courses in what it considers core subjects, in keeping with federal and state language, according to Department of Education officials. But when the department awards schools for their students’ success in passing academic courses, it leaves the arts out.

On the city’s annual city progress reports, high schools receive points based on how many classes students passed in the last year. Extra weight is given to English, math, science, and social studies courses, the ones the city considers to be at the core of the academic program. This year, for the first time, middle schools also received credit for the proportion of students who passed classes in those subjects.

The change to the middle school progress report prompted seven leading arts advocates to petition city officials in late August to add arts to the Department of Education’s list of core subjects. The advocates, who included the director of the Center for Arts Education and the chair of the New York City Arts Coalition, argued in a letter to Chancellor Dennis Walcott that the department’s metrics signal to principals that it’s okay to give the arts short shrift.

“The inclusion of the arts, and other core subject areas, in the Progress Report will send a clear message to parents, principals, and school communities that the city understands that these subject areas are essential to the education and health and well‐being of our schoolchildren,” they wrote.

Department officials say that’s not on the table right now.

“At this time we don’t have plans to weight [arts] on the progress report,” said spokeswoman Deidrea Miller. She noted that unlike reading and math, the subjects that make up 80 to 85 percent of elementary and middle schools’ annual grades, there is no standardized assessment for the arts.

The department does include questions about whether students receive arts instruction on the survey it distributes annually to parents and students. It also publishes an annual “Arts in Schools Report” tallying the survey responses and schools’ spending on arts instruction. But the survey questions and annual arts report are not part of the department’s accountability system for schools.

Arts funding in New York City schools declined amid broader budget cuts after the Bloomberg administration stopped requiring principals to spend a certain portion of their funds on arts instruction.

A key difference between Los Angeles and New York City is how the schools are governed. Mayoral control has been in place here since 2002, but L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa lost a bid to gain control over his city’s schools early in his tenure. By funding the campaigns of school board candidates and cultivating a bloc of four of the board’s seven members, he has ensured that the board is generally friendly to his initiatives. But it is possible for the board to pass resolutions against the city’s objections.

In the case of the arts resolution, Los Angeles officials said they also thought more should be done to maintain arts instruction. A day before the school board’s vote, Villaraigosa and other officials announced a campaign to promote arts integration in other subjects.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.