arts increases

City will hire 100 new arts teachers and invest in facilities with additional $23M

PHOTO: Mary Ellen McIntire
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced how the city would spend an additional $23 million in arts funding at the Bronx Museum of the Arts Tuesday.

The city will divide up an additional $23 million set aside for arts education to hire 120 new teachers, improve and create new facilities, and provide arts teachers with funds to purchase new supplies, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.

Directing the additional funds, which will bring the city’s total arts spending to about $353 million, is the first step toward bringing the city’s public schools into compliance with state law, which requires all middle and high schools to have some form of arts education, de Blasio said.

“For too long, we had under-invested in arts education and cultural education in our schools,” de Blasio said. “And it was time to right that wrong and do something aggressive about it.”

De Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña said Monday that the money would be spent in a range of ways, following weeks of advocates pushing their own priorities. The department will spend $4.7 million to put 100 arts teachers in pairs of middle schools, $7.5 million to make improvements to facilities, and $1.4 million to expand partnerships with cultural organizations, officials said. The city will also set aside $1,000 for each full-time arts teacher to purchase supplies.

Schools will be able to apply for grants to hire new teachers or improve their arts facilities, and will be encouraged to work with nearby or co-located schools to apply together so that the funding can reach more schools, officials said.

“We’re also asking schools that are co-located to actually talk to each other,” Fariña said. “Because when we look at schools that may be in same building and aren’t getting along, the arts will bring them together.”

During his mayoral campaign, de Blasio vowed to add funding for the arts and set a goal that all students would receive state-mandated arts instruction within four years. All told, this year’s additional money is an approximately 7 percent increase over last year’s citywide arts spending.

The funding increase does not change the policy, put in place under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, that cut a dedicated line for the arts from school budgets, allowing principals to redirect funds to offset budget cuts. The school system lost more than 200 certified arts teachers after that change, according to a report from City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer, who stood next to de Blasio at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, praised the mayor for swiftly acting on his report, which he said showed “shocking disparities.” One in five city schools do not have a full-time, certified arts teacher, according to his analysis, and schools in the poorest areas of the city were least likely to offer arts education.

The M.S. 215 band played before Mayor Bill de Blasio announced how increased funding for arts education would be spent Tuesday.
PHOTO: Mary Ellen McIntire
The M.S. 215 band played before Mayor Bill de Blasio announced how increased funding for arts education would be spent Tuesday.

Fariña said she believed adding arts programs will increase attendance, especially among middle school students who need something extra to capture their interests. Funding to improve auditoriums and dance floors, even when shared by schools, can help students have more opportunities to perform, she said, increasing students’ confidence.

“How many of you like going on the stage and showing off for people? Absolutely! Why not? So this is an important thing,” Fariña asked members of the M.S. 215 band who played at the announcement, noting that all of the school auditoriums in the city would get some “sprucing up.”

More than $350,000 will also go toward funding a partnership between the Lincoln Center and Hunter College of New York to train 20 new teachers as arts educators over the next three years. While completing the two-year training program, teachers will be able to apply for full-time teaching positions in city schools.

Eric Pryor, executive director of the Center for Arts Education, who has criticized the city’s arts education offerings in recent years, said he was heartened by the new push for partnerships.

“The announcement today shows that they believe in that and they’re investing in helping to broaden what our students receive, particularly our most vulnerable children,” Pryor said.

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.