Go on to sleep now, third grader of mine.
The test is tomorrow but you'll do just fine.
It's reading and math. Forget all the rest.
You don't need to know what is not on the test.
These opening lyrics from the song, “Not On the Test” do a nice job of summing up the painful realities of the testing frenzy that has become the cause célèbre of No Child Left Behind. The first time I heard this song I fell out of my chair laughing. Then I realized… it was funny because of how accurate the sentiments expressed are. Regardless of what administrators and policymakers may want to believe, or what they tell others in public forums, the mania behind teaching to the test is real. The ship has sailed on this fact. Arguing the point that teaching to the test is not happening is like arguing that the earth is flat. Saying it isn’t true does not make it so.
I have occasionally used this space to write about how other nations around the world are moving away from standardized tests. I’ve written about how creativity is the emerging force in the 21st Century Economy. I have discussed the need for the arts to be embraced into the core fabric of education for our children. I have spoken of the importance of data. I have written about my belief that the major revisions coming to No Child Left Behind, or as the new Congress refers to it, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, will benefit music and arts education.
In keeping with the theme from our lyrics above I am now moved to address accountability.
Each box that you mark on each test that you take,
Remember your teachers. Their jobs are at stake.
Your score is their score, but don't get all stressed.
They'd never teach anything not on the test.
The idea of considering accountability was stimulated by the lyrics above, as well as recent events in New York City. The chancellor of New York City’s Public Schools, Joel Klein, recently announced plans to give principals new discretion over the spending of millions of dollars that have been historically designated for arts education. This change is part of mayor Michael Bloomberg’s and chancellor Klein’s plans to give principals more say over how they run their schools and spend this money.
This funding had been developed over the past decade to help restore music and arts programs from the major cutbacks that occurred in the 1970s. This designated funding had been augmented by money from outside sources and has been widely acknowledged as being one of the main reasons there has been some optimism about arts programs successfully returning to the New York Public Schools.
Word of the removal of the restrictions on this funding was met with great concern by arts and education leaders alike. The New York Daily News ran the headline: Killing $68M art plan paints bleak picture for schools.
Sleep, sleep, and as you progress
You'll learn there's a lot that is not on the test.
According to comments in the New York Times, David Cantor, a spokesman for the New York Department of Education stated: “We don’t earmark funding for reading or math — we just demand results. The same should be true of arts.”
Bravo! Finally, someone is saying what many of us in arts education firmly believe. The arts should not be considered as “special” or “different” in comparison to other subjects. The arts should be held to the same high level of accountability, just like reading and math, in an environment that embraces a “demand for results.”
There is only one problem with this statement. New York City’s Board of Education does not demand results for arts education. There is no mandate to provide arts instruction or accountability to see what students “know and are able to do” in the arts like there is for reading and math. In New York, results are expected for reading and math, but there are no expectations for the arts. Period. Reading and math are “On the Test.” Music and arts education are “Not on the Test”… metaphorically speaking of course.
New York City has developed standards for what children should be learning in K-12 arts education, but without a system of accountability to know who is being taught what and where! As we have seen before, standards without accountability are meaningless.
Debate is a skill that is useful to know,
Unless you're in Congress or talk radio,
Where shouting and spouting and spewing are blessed
'Cause rational discourse was not on the test.
Talk is Cheap
So… here is an opportunity for the New York City Department of Education to be true to their word: Don’t just say “the same should be true for the arts.” The Mayor and the Chancellor are in charge. Make it happen.
Saying it and doing it are two different things. And since the city is intent on removing restrictions on funding for more than $67 million, the least they can do is build an accountability system and demand for results that they themselves have suggested.
Thinking's important. It's good to know how.
And someday you'll learn to, but someday's not now.
Go on to sleep, now. You need your rest.
Don't think about thinking. It's not on the test.
I know that mayor Bloomberg is a huge supporter of the arts and believes in the value of arts education. I know chancellor Klein understands the important role the arts play in developing a culture of learning and community within a school. Their challenge of managing the nation’s largest school system is indeed daunting. Their commitment to improving the system is genuine and we should provide them the opportunity to make good on their word.
Now is the time to move from rhetoric to reality and include the arts in the high expectations for all schools and all children. The mayor and the Chancellor expect more from our schools and these expectations should now include accountability in arts education.
Omitting the arts from this culture that “demands results” will only lead us back to where we were when we started this conversation: No expectation, No accountability. In essence they will go on to reinforce the sad, but true statement from our song:
The School Board is faced with no child left behind
With rules but no funding, they're caught in a bind.
So music and art and the things you love best
Are not in your school 'cause they're…
NOT ON THE TEST!
Lyrics excerpted from:
“Not On The Test”
by John Forster & Tom Chapin
© 2007 Limousine Music Co. & The Last Music Co. (ASCAP)
To see the complete song and to purchase a copy visit http://members.aol.com/chapinfo/tc/
Tell them Bob sent you!