Study paints a bleak picture of art education in U.S. schools

Music and art instruction in American eighth-grade classrooms has remained flat over the last decade, according to a new survey by the U.S. Department of Education, and one official involved in the survey called student achievement in those subjects "mediocre," reports the New York Times. The survey, released June 15, was conducted as part of a nationwide test of music and arts achievement administered last year. As the first federal effort since 1997 to examine instruction and measure student achievement in music and the arts, the survey has added new evidence to the debate about whether American schools are cutting back on the subjects they teach to concentrate on improving students’ basic skills. In the test, administrators at 260 public and private schools were asked how much time they devoted to art and music instruction, and 7,900 eighth-grade students were tested on art and music concepts. The small number of students tested, and the 11-year gap since the most recent federal arts test, limited the assessment’s usefulness for reaching conclusions about achievement trends, federal officials said. But one indicator showed a clear decline in student exposure to the arts: 16 percent of students reported having gone with their class to an art museum, gallery, or exhibit in the last year. That was down from 22 percent in 1997…

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Stimulus funds to advance national standards

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is offering federal cash incentives to achieve one of his top priorities: developing national standards for reading and math to replace a current hodgepodge of benchmarks in the states.

Duncan said June 14 that the efforts of 46 states to develop common, internationally measured standards for student achievement would be bolstered by up to $350 million in federal funds to help them develop tests to assess those standards.

Duncan made the announcement in suburban Cary, N.C., at a conference for education experts and 20 governors hosted by the National Governors Association and the James B. Hunt, Jr., Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy.

Education decisions generally are controlled by the states, and the federal government cannot mandate national standards. That makes for wide variation from state to state. Students and schools deemed failing in one state might get passing grades in another.

It will be up to states to adopt the new standards voluntarily. But Duncan has been using his bully pulpit to push the effort–and now he’s using Washington’s checkbook, too. He said spending up to $350 million to support state efforts to craft assessments would be Washington’s largest-ever investment in encouraging a set of common standards.

The money will come from the federal Education Department’s $5 billion "Race to the Top" fund to reward states that adopt innovations the Obama administration supports. The money is part of the State Stabilization Fund from the federal stimulus package.

"Historically, this was a third rail. You couldn’t even talk about [standards]," Duncan said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "What you’ve seen over the past couple years is a growing recognition from political leaders, educators, unions, nonprofits–literally every sector–coming to realize that 50 states doing their own thing doesn’t make sense."

Every state except Alaska, South Carolina, Missouri, and Texas has signed on to an effort to develop standards by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers. (See "46 states, D.C. plan to draft common education standards.") But getting the states to adopt whatever emerges will be politically difficult.

"Resources are important, but resources are actually a small piece of this puzzle," Duncan told the AP. "What’s really needed here is political courage. We need governors to continue to invest their energy and political capital."

Any tests developed for the new standards would likely replace existing ones. Asked to explain the money’s focus on developing more tests, Duncan said developing the standards themselves would be relatively inexpensive.

Developing assessments, by contrast, is a "very heavy lift financially," Duncan said, expressing concern that the project could stall without federal backing.

"Having real high standards is important, but behind that, I think in this country we have too many bad tests," Duncan said. "If we’re going to have world-class international standards, we need to have world-class evaluations behind them."

Links:

U.S. Education Department

James B. Hunt Jr. Institute

National Governors Association

Council of Chief State School Officers

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Firm offers video college tours

To narrow down her choice of colleges, high school senior Augusta Jahrsdoerfer did what students have done for generations: take tours of the schools she was interested in. But rather than travel to universities across the state or country, the 18-year-old Boynton Beach, Fla., resident logged on to YOUniversityTV.com, a web site that provides video tours and other services that allow prospective students to explore a school without ever stepping foot on campus.

“It really helped save time and money,” Jahrsdoerfer said, explaining that the site helped her eliminate schools and decide which one she wanted to attend. “We didn’t really have all the money to fly or drive to all the schools I wanted to visit.”

Video tours of college campuses are not exactly a new phenomenon; many universities have provided video tours and information about their campuses to prospective students for years.

But the Boynton Beach-based start-up YOUniversity LLC is hoping to draw users to its sites by offering prospective college students an unbiased, third-party source of information about hundreds of schools in an interactive, social environment.

“Most of our employees are recent grads, who are best able to share their campus experiences with others getting ready to go to college,” said co-founder Ron Reis, who launched the company in January 2008.

The 17-person staff has three full-time camera crews that travel around the country shooting high-definition footage of college campuses and the surrounding area.

They’ve already taped more than 400 top schools throughout the country.

“They’ve done a really good job, and they seem to have found a niche market that people really need,” said Gordon Chavis, associate vice president for undergraduate admissions at the University of Central Florida. Chavis said UCF let YOUniversity film its campus about a year ago and was so impressed with the video that the school put a link on its own web site.

“We were just glad to be a part of it. … A number of new students have mentioned the virtual tour as a positive factor,” Chavis said.

The YOUniversity crews interview administrators, faculty, and students, and while the company asks each school to fact-check the accuracy of statistics, the school does not pay for the video to be made, and it is up to each YOUniversity crew to decide what makes the cut.

“The schedule can be pretty crazy,” said Nicole Erin, a recent Florida Atlantic University graduate who is one of the on-camera personalities for YOUniversity. “One day, we were taping [in] Las Vegas, and we had to be at the University of Arizona the next day. Our flight was delayed and we missed our connection, so we had to drive through the night from Phoenix to Tucson. We shot there, then had one day off, then had to head to West Point.”

Co-founders Reis and Angelo Kotzamanis are hoping the hard work pays off, especially because the pair closed a profitable business and invested personal savings to get YOUniversity off the ground.

The Boynton Beach entrepreneurs had previously been partners in Max World News, a firm that produced video news releases for news stations.

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Up to $4,000 to antiviolence programs for children

The Women’s Division of the General Board of the Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church of offers grants of up to $4,000 for projects and programs addressing the needs of children and young people between the ages of 5 to 18 in the areas of violence prevention, anti-abuse and relationship abuse. The Women’s Division funds small-scale, community and church-based programs and projects. Building improvements, computer hardware, one-time only events, or summer events and activities are not eligible for funding.

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$400 in teaching supplies for teachers who use insects as educational tools

The Entomological Society of America (ESA) is awarding educators who have gone beyond the traditional teaching methods by using insects as educational tools. One winner will be chosen from among primary teachers (grades K-6) and one from among secondary teachers (grades 7-12). The recipients will receive a $400 donation made payable to the winner’s school to purchase teaching materials required to expand the use of insects in the teaching curriculum; a $400 award paid directly to the winner for expenses associated with travel required to present a paper or poster on the use of insects in primary or secondary educational programs at a peer professional venue of their choosing; gratis registration to attend ESA’s Annual Meeting; and an $800 award paid directly to the winner for expenses associated with travel, hotel arrangements, and all other costs associated with attending the ESA Annual Meeting.

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Awards for child and adult poetry promoting peace

The Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Award is an annual series of awards to encourage poets to explore and illuminate positive visions of peace and the human spirit. The Poetry Awards include three age categories: Adult, Youth 13-18, and Youth 12 & Under. Poems must be original, unpublished and in English.

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$5,000 for schools that serves as a community center

The Richard Riley Award is open to all elementary and secondary public schools that serve as centers of their communities. Teachers, superintendents, students, principals, school business officials, board members, and architects (affiliated with an eligible school) may apply. The school illustrating the most community collaboration and school design excellence will win $5,000.

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Up to $500 for physics teachers

Offered by the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), the Bauder Grant for Support of Physics Teaching provides up to $500 to K-12 teachers for special activities in the area of physics teaching. This includes the development and distribution of innovative apparatus for physics teaching and the funding of related workshops. This is a great opportunity for physics teachers to enhance their physics curriculum with hands-on science activities and inquiry-based investigations. Only AAPT members can apply.

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