Two Successful Reform Initiatives Funded by NYSCA’s Arts In Education Program


One of the state-wide contributions to transforming schools through the arts was The New York State Council on the Arts [NYSCA]. NYSCA has been in charge of distributing state funding to arts education partnerships since the 1960s. In the years 2003-2011, several funded initiatives undertaken by arts education partnerships in New York State are worth mentioning for their successful school reform efforts, job-embedded peer-to-peer professional development of classroom teachers, the use of arts standards rubrics, assessment templates and online evidence gathering and demonstration of student learning examples.

Empire State Partnerships

One of the NYSCA initiatives was to fund a more sustained and far-reaching school reform strategy for arts education partnerships with the creation of the Empire State Partnerships [ESP]. ESP was dedicated to funding professional development in the arts to improve and transform schools. An introduction to ESP in one of the summer programs helps to describe the mission and reach that ESP was attaining at that time [2007]:

The New York State Department of Education has also played an important role in the city’s arts education renaissance by creating Empire State Partnerships (ESP) and funding it through New York State Council for the Arts (New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA)). Less interested in efforts around the edges, ESP is dedicated to transforming schools through the arts.

ESP offers a summer seminar for school planning teams and has established leadership networks so that existing expertise can be tapped by schools beginning to envision how the arts might change their schools. At this summer’s seminar, school teams will create a vision for a new school culture where the arts play a central role. They will then use “backward design” as a planning tool for making that vision a reality.

What do ESP partnerships look like in action? At IS 49 in Brooklyn, the recent exhibit Body Works displayed students’ artistic interpretations – painting and sculptures – of internal organs. Together, the Rotunda Gallery and IS 49 established a permanent gallery space in the school. Contemporary artists from the neighborhood worked with IS 49 teachers and students to integrate art-making into the science curriculum. Body Works was one of three exhibits mounted at the school last year.

Andrew Christman, an arts educator formerly with Rotunda Gallery, explained why efforts such as Body Works hit the mark. “Collaborations don’t need to be huge, but the goals must be clear, centered on the kids, and assessable.” Christman was also clear about the reciprocity of the partnership: “Yes, IS 49 got a fantastic gallery space that has become a hub of artistic expression. But Rotunda staff and neighborhood artists got to learn at the feet of a master, Mike Kaye, the school’s art teacher, about what art skills are developmentally appropriate.” [ESP website; downloaded 2010].

Evidence of Teacher and Student Learning

Another example of arts education in support of school reform is drawn from the Evidence of Teacher and Student Learning [ETSL] project (Southworth, 2011) also funded by NYSCA. Amy Duggins Pender, the director of arts in education at NYSCA invented and supported more than 40 partnerships in taking all of their work online. Partnerships co-created their work in online templates by providing information on the background of the partnership formation, goals for the partnerships, assessments used to document student learning, examples of student art work and evaluation by the partnership of the work. Partnerships could look across at other partnerships to get ideas, see growth, and understand multiple approaches to arts integration.

More than 40 arts-in-education partnerships (between a cultural organization and a school) are building residency curriculum units hosted by NYSCA online and guided by the ETSL template.

These partnerships are improving their practice by building their own ETSL units to show the evidence of student learning as an outcome of their residencies. Partnerships are showing how participation leads to student learning instead of simply documenting that students participated in their residencies. Partnerships are asked to consider the evidence for student learning. Partnerships are becoming stronger due to the collaborative demands in providing evidence of student learning that both teaching artists and teachers can agree upon.

The ETSL template provides a clear outline for accomplishing the work, and a dynamic internet space to display pictures, video, audio and text about the evidence of student learning. All of the partnerships who are online with NYSCA have access to each of the other partnerships and their units thereby increasing the knowledge base of the field in substantial ways. For example, the partnerships can choose to sample a dance residency and look for how they assess student learning; they can choose a painting residency to see how they document student learning over time; and they can choose to review how a museum residency helps students become docents of their own work. This is a very exciting improvement of practice and an increase in the knowledge base of the field [Southworth, 2011, conclusion]

The ability to create ETSL units online is a clear advantage in disseminating the results so that the rest of the field will benefit. This project is so engaging that word of the project precedes our conversation with others about it. Partnerships, administrators, principals and teaching artists often have ETSL on their minds before we arrive to discuss it with them. The benefits of this online tool are that it helps partnerships organize their how their partnerships work, focus their results and promote their collaborations (R. Southworth, 2011).

Empire State Partnerships. (2007). Summer Program. New York: NYSCA.

Southworth, R. (2011). NYSCA Evaluation. New York: The SchoolWorks Lab, Inc.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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