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Letters to the Editor: June 10, 2015

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Art, education

I feel great empathy with Oklahoma City Public Schools’ (OKCPS) efforts to provide equitable arts funding (News, Education, “Creative funding,” Ben Felder, May 20, Oklahoma Gazette).

I know the value of making arts part of school curriculum.

I was principal of an initial Oklahoma A+ school, and then was statewide director of OKA+. Now, I travel the country, helping schools as they struggle with the same challenges we face here.

It’s critical that schools have the resources and training they need so art programs can be transformers that research shows they can be.

My concern is that as new OKCPS leaders have to do more with less, they may further reduce and “equalize” arts, leading to what I call “making schools equally bad.”

In 2002, I was one of four principals who met with the superintendent to ask for increased arts allocation if we were chosen as A+ schools.

It wasn’t just to have more art and music time. It was so we would have the expertise on staff to integrate those disciplines into how every child learns.

I don’t doubt that Lora is correct that the allocations are “all over the place,” but I suspect the same can be said about special reading and math coaches. And yet I hear no calls to remove those teachers from schools.

When we asked for more teacher time, it was with the expectation that to keep the teachers, we would show gains.

So, did we? Yes. A five-year study showed that A+ schools not only had higher achievement than the district, but also fewer discipline issues, better student and teacher attendance and more parent involvement. One of the reasons for the improved outcomes was the teamwork from great arts teachers. In fact, Rhonda Taylor, now fine arts director, was our school’s music teacher. In 2006, George Kimball did a study to assess if students in A+ schools had higher reading and math scores than non-A+ students. They did, with statistical significance.

We’ve never claimed that art education is a silver bullet. But the research is clear that when the arts are part of learning, students tend to stay in school, do better and become well-rounded, productive citizens.

If we like those outcomes, schools must keep their teachers so we can have schools worthy of our children.

— Jean Hendrickson, director emeritus of Oklahoma A+ Schools

Oklahoma City

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