Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Russell Granet – On Quality Arts Education and “bringing the word ‘love’ back to teaching and learning.” (post 1 of 3)

Arts education advocate and consultant Russell Granet spoke to members of the New Vic Council about arts education and New York’s schools (edited with permission).Members of the New Vic Council are ambassadors for The New Victory Theater, working to broaden the public’s awareness of the importance of arts education and championing the New Victory Theater Education Program and the New Vic/New 42 Youth Corps.

Russell Granet (RG): There are approximately 1,500 NYC public schools, 1.1 million students, and roughly 80,000 teachers in the system. In 2002 we had approximately 1,200 music teachers, 1,100 visual arts teachers, and less than a 100 certified dance and theatre teachers. This is a problem.

The state mandates that twenty percent of lower elementary school needs to be spent in arts education. Twenty percent, if you do the math, is one full day a week. In New York City there was not one school compliant with the state’s mandate. One of the reasons I wanted to share those staggering numbers is to drive home the importance of cultural institutions in NYC – and in particular, highlight the work of the New Vic. Cultural institutions are filling the gap where, in fact, certified teachers are supposed to be. So our teaching artists (from the New Vic, for example) are in some cases the default theater teacher in a school, and in many cases are providing the only theater that these students will be introduced to and their only introduction to theater as a profession. So it’s incredibly important that cultural institutions step up to the plate, in all art forms, and it doesn’t mean that music and visual arts shouldn’t be doing it as well, because those numbers, while much higher, are still incredibly low.

Arts programming in the middle schools is an ongoing challenge. It is especially difficult because of scheduling. The landscape is best on the high school level. Because of the development of arts-specialized high schools and minimal requirements from the state, most high schools offer something in the way in the arts. The current state of arts education is an indication that we are not very good at telling our story. The arts are not a privilege, but a right. Arts education is clearly not on anyone’s priority list. I have actually had principals tell me, when I have suggested they are not in compliance with the state arts education mandates, that they are aware of the mandates but no one will hold them accountable and, therefore, it’s not a priority. Principals are reviewed on their test results not on their arts program. An ongoing challenge is a lack of consistency on the report cards. In some schools the arts are not on the report card and if they are, they are not included in a child’s grade point average.

Our goal has to be making the arts a priority in our schools. Principals need to be held accountable for providing a quality, sequential arts education program for their students. Every school gets a grade. If any of you have children in a public school, you can go to the school’s website and see an A through F grade for any school in the city. The way the schools are graded is based on growth from year to year, so a high performing school may receive a low grade because their numbers have not greatly increased. For example, a very good school in Brooklyn did not get an “A,” even though it’s one of the best schools in the city, because they didn’t progress enough from the previous year. If you’re a failing school and you do very well the next year, chances are you will receive an “A.” So, in other words, it has to do with the test and how well you do from one year to the next.
Having said that, one of the things we have to be thinking about - if in fact our teaching artists and cultural organizations are the first entry into the world of the arts - is how essential it is the experience is one of quality. One of the things Edie (Edie Demas, Director of Education, The New Victory Theater) and I have been talking about is a new report called the “The Qualities of Quality” by lead researcher Steve Seidel. The focus of the report is on quality teaching and learning in the arts. Basically, the report has told us that there are four indicators of quality in arts education.

One: The Environment
Is the environment appropriate for the art form being taught? If students are taking dance, is the floor appropriate? For theatre, is the space flexible with movable furniture? For visual arts, does the room have a sink?

Additionally, where do the arts live in the building? Is it a priority, or is it marginalized? Is it considered a core subject or simply an enrichment?

Two: Engagement
Are the students engaged? Are they participating in art making? Are the teachers engaging? The report states that students decide to engage in the first 3-5 minutes of a lesson. If you lose them in the first 3-5 minutes, you’ve lost them for the entire class period.

Three (the one I find particularly important): Relationships
Not just the relationship the teachers have with their students, but the relationships that the students have with one another. The teacher’s job is not done if they do a good job building relationships with their students, but the students have not developed healthy relationships among themselves. The teachers must understand the importance of all relationships: relationships with parents, administrators, among and between students, and between faculty.

Four (makes people nervous): Knowledge
Do practitioners actually know what they are teaching? In some cases, we have English teachers teaching Shakespeare who are possibly the only theater teacher in the building. That doesn’t mean they don’t know and understand theater, but they’re not a certified theater teacher. And in some cases you have the physical education teacher introducing students to dance. Again, we might have a great physical education teacher who’s good at dance, but chances are they don’t have formal dance training. Knowledge is important in making sure that our teachers actually know what it is they’re teaching.

The same four principles apply to the work of teaching artists. Seidel came to New York a few years back to report out some of his earlier findings. There were a small group of us meeting at the NYC DOE and one of my colleagues raised his hand and said, “Is anything not in the report?” and Steve said, “Yes, there is something that is not highlighted in the report.” He said when teachers really knew their subject, when the students were actively engaged, and when strong relationships were built – he said there was LOVE in the room. Not something that can be included in a research report, but you could feel it in the room. It’s interesting to me that we are not able to use the word “LOVE” when talking about teaching and learning. What does that say about the current state of education?


  1. This is so Beautiful~ I agree about Love and what you are promoting is wonderful.

    Love Yourself Site on Facebook... please check it out!

  2. Well said Russell. In my book, Everything We Needed to Know ABout Business, We Learned Playing Music, we compiled interviews/profiles of 32 CEOs and business leaders who played music as a child or adolescent and view that experience as a defining one in preparing them for success.

    We identified 9 common lessons that translate into success...FROM THE BAND ROOM TO THE BOARDROOM. The world is changing, and the sensitivities of the artist are needed in the business world now more than ever.

    The link below provides a summary of the research and excerpts from the interviews:

    Keep fighting the good fight!