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Cultural Plan would overhaul CPS arts ed

Mon, Aug 20, 2012

Chicago’s Cultural Plan 2012 could mean an overhaul of arts education in the Chicago Public Schools given that “arts education for all Chicago and … opportunities for lifelong learning” is its number 2 priority.
The recommendation for “equitable access to arts education… every child, every grade, every subject and every school” includes a “mandate” from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the School Board and the CPS CEO “around non-negotiables regarding arts education.” It also includes six initiatives to develop an arts education curriculum in every school and as a core subject.

A second recommendation encompasses expanded funding for arts education: through a mayor-appointed commission, multi-year corporate sponsorships and adopt-a-school arts education. A third point seeks sustainability through measurement of arts education impact on crime reduction and community health through outreach to CPS administrators, teaching artists and parents and citywide CPS arts exhibitions and performances.

Raymond Wohl, chair of the Chicago Teachers Union arts committee, which represents teachers of visual arts, music, dance and theater in Chicago Public Schools, says “what parents are asking for, what teachers know and what children deserve, is art and music in every neighborhood school.”

About 900 Chicago teachers have certifications to teach music, theater, visual art or dance, Wohl said. However, about 70 or 80 of Chicago’s 650 public schools – 12 percent – have no art or music teaching positions. Alternative schools and charters are among them, with many having opted for technology or language teachers instead, he said.

Wohl himself is an 18-year performing arts teacher at Thurgood Marshall Middle School, 3900 W. Lawndale Ave. Because the school’s enrollment is less than 750, his position is only funded half-time, in accordance with the current Board of Education formula. That means his principal and Local School Council have to find discretionary funds to make his position full-time.

Art, music, physical education, computer and library programs are all similarly funded, he said. They share this state and federal discretionary money, which is given to schools with low-income students who qualify for free and reduced price lunches. About 86 percent of CPS students fit the low-income, reduced lunch-fee criteria.

On the other hand, large enrollment high schools such as Lane Tech, with 4,500 students, have five music teachers and five art teachers, he said. The same goes for selective enrollment high schools such as Whitney Young, North Side College Prep and Walter Payton; they might have vocal teachers, instrumental band teachers, music appreciation teachers. State standards also require students to have one year of art and one year of music over the four years of high school, Wohl said.

The CTU would like to see a similar standard for elementary schools, Wohl said. The union is also pushing for a certified arts teacher and one other teaching position in every school. The school could choose art and dance, art and music, or art and theater, depending on its needs, he said.

“It’s still in negotiation,” Wohl said of the proposal. “If in fact the Board of Education wants to provide a world-class education, this is the beginning: to provide music and arts education for all children. Why are kids failing? It’s because they don’t have a well-rounded education. They like to say it’s an arts desert. It’s an educational desert.”

On the other hand, Wohl said that arts teachers in the public schools could connect with parent artists and musicians – and the larger community as a whole.

Meanwhile, in separate votes July 18, both the Board of Ed and the CTU rejected the findings of an outside mediator in their contract negotiations, which set a 30-day clock ticking on a possible strike.

According to WBEZ.org. the independent fact-finder had suggested a 15 percent raise for teachers in the first year alone. But the school board said the pay increase would cost $330 million, which would mean 4,000 teacher layoffs and large increases in class sizes. The board had initially offered just a two percent raise in the first year of the contract, although the CTU requested 29 percent. The school district has a $665 million deficit, which it will fill by “completely drain[ing] its rainy day fund.”

Professional arts and performing groups have started to provide education in Chicago public schools on a short-term residency model, Wohl said. He calls this trend “privatization.” “We need to get certified arts teachers. I am not against getting the Old Town School of Folk Music or the Shakespeare company. I love to have people perform but I don’t want to put a hat on them and say, ‘you are the teacher.’ ”

Suzanne Hanney, StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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