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NYT cuts the arts (very long)


Date: Wed Jul 23 2003 - 12:04:48 PDT

I just got the following forwarded article from our district's head of the
arts. I think her comment (which I emphasized) about integrating the arts
bothers me more than the article.
Susan in OR

FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES. (Lew Frederick forwarded this to Glenn and myself,
as well as to Patricia Pickles.) Now, maybe we can see more evidence of the
need to have the arts integrated into subjects.

Be aware that our October professional development day will address these &
other well as presentations in our content areas. We won't be
meeting as specialists during the August prof dev days.
Hope your summers are going exceedingly well. The weather has DEFINITELY
been cooperating!

July 23, 2003
Basic Skills Forcing Cuts in Art Classes

Under pressure to find time for the extra English and math classes required
by the Education Department's new standardized curriculum, the city's junior
high schools are slashing art, music and other electives, an unintended cost
in the push to help students master basic skills.

Some schools are also reducing foreign language, social studies and science
instruction to accommodate the curriculum, which requires that 18 periods —
more than half of the 35 instructional periods in a typical week — be
dedicated to reading and math.

"The art, music and everything else are basically out the window," said
Joseph D. Cantara, the principal of Intermediate School 237 in Flushing,
Queens. "Something has to go. What went is all the art, the music and the
foreign language."

City education officials insist that many cuts can be avoided through
creative scheduling by principals, like adding an extra period to the school
day or teaching reading and math in other subject areas like history,
science, art or technology.

But officials said that where cuts cannot be averted, they were prepared to
make tough choices to fix a system in which more than half the students are
failing the basics.

"As important as music and art are, and I believe they are important,"
Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein said in an interview yesterday, "I don't
think we are going to succeed if we continue to have 70 percent of our
students going into high school unprepared."

"We have done everything we can to make sure that music and art in the
junior high school is not only appropriately funded, but that time is
available," Mr. Klein said. "But if I have the forced choice, I think I have
to put it into math and literacy, even though I don't like that."

Supporters of the arts, however, said the cuts were unacceptable at a time
when many arts programs have just recovered from decades of neglect after
the city eliminated money for arts education during the 1970's fiscal

"It's devastating," said Joan Davidson, a retired art teacher who is
president of the New York City Art Teachers Association/ United Federation
of Teachers, which is part of the teachers' union. "It's like a knife
cutting the soul out of education."

Several arts educators said it was particularly unfortunate that arts
programs were falling victim to schedule constraints just as Mr. Klein has
budgeted more money for the arts and has proposed a new, cohesive citywide
arts curriculum.

Mario Asaro, an art teacher at Junior High School 157 in Rego Park, Queens,
said he was among three of the school's four art instructors who were told
that their positions had been eliminated. "As of now, there is no position
for us at the school," he said. "Basically, the administration feels that
their hands are tied."

Education Department officials had anticipated that middle school principals
would face logistical hurdles in introducing the new curriculum and the
90-minute double-block periods that it calls for in English and math.

The time constraints will be felt most acutely in the eighth grade, a year
in which students face an unusually heavy load of city and state
requirements and also take the state's so-called high-stakes standardized
tests in English and math.

The scheduling challenges will not affect 209 high-performing schools and
several programs for gifted students, which are exempt from the new
curriculum requirement. Elementary schools will be affected to a lesser
degree, as will high schools, which must provide the double-block periods to
ninth graders.

In memos to principals, Diana Lam, the deputy chancellor for teaching and
learning, and other officials urged them to avoid cutting art and music by
adding an extra period to the school day — an unlikely solution at most
schools because the teachers' union would have to agree to a longer workday.
A separate 50-minute instructional period is already being added to one
school day each week as part of an earlier union agreement, and officials
also suggested that that could be used for art.

Alternatively, officials suggested that principals fulfill the new
curriculum requirements by teaching reading and math in other subject areas
like history, art, science or technology. But in many cases, teachers of
those subjects have not been trained to teach basic literacy and math
skills, a fact that city officials readily acknowledge.

"This is not a switch that you turn on and off," said Michelle Cahill,
Chancellor Klein's senior educational policy adviser. "This is something
that we have to develop over this year and next year. When we talk about
this really important issue of incorporating literacy as part of these other
core courses like social studies, this will require professional

Ms. Cahill, however, was unapologetic about the need for extra English and
math. "We have only 3 out of 10 of our students reaching standards in
literacy and math at the end of eighth grade," she said.

The city has hired the ADIS Corporation, a Boston-based private consulting
firm, to develop sample schedules and train principals. Training sessions
were held on May 12 and May 13 in each of the 10 instructional divisions.

But even the consultants, who specialize in school programming, found that
in some cases it was impossible to design a schedule without making cuts.
"Scheduling is one of those things, you never get everything," said Dharmesh
M. Mehta, the president of the company. "You have to set out your values and
decide what's most important."

"Yes, you might have to sacrifice some of your art program or sacrifice some
of your music program, but you don't have to sacrifice all of them," he

Mr. Mehta said that principals in New York City faced a host of challenges
because they were required not only to meet a long list of state and city
requirements but also were constrained by perhaps the most rigid teacher
contract in the country.

Randi Weingarten, president of the teachers' union, said the contract
provided flexibility, but she faulted city officials for not working with
the union to devise alternative schedules.

Councilwoman Eva S. Moskowitz, who heads the City Council's education
committee, said she hoped administrators would do more to protect arts
classes. "Many principals don't see the arts as critical to their mission
because the kids are not tested on that," she said. "It's easy for it to
become expendable."

Mr. Cantara, the principal of I.S. 237, said he would use grants to
integrate art into other subject areas. But he said he was unable to save
music for eighth graders. "I have kids who were very successful in strings
and band last year that will have nothing next year."

He said other electives were also being cut. "I have got a brand new
computer lab," he said, "and it's just going to sit there because I have got
no time in the day to do computers."

Still, Mr. Cantara said he supported Mr. Klein's goals. "I think the
chancellor meant well," he said. "His heart is in the right place." But he
said, "I just don't think they have spoken to anybody who runs a school on a
day-to-day basis for their input."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company |

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