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Charter School Network Refuses to Give Up Arts for Test Prep

 Charter School Network Refuses to Give Up Arts for Test Prep

Despite some fearing that the focus on meeting Common Core State Standards guidelines and seemingly endless test prep has led to eliminating art instruction across the country, one New York charter school network proves that art education doesn't need to go anywhere.

As public education continues to be dictated by annual "high-stakes" tests as a result of the Common Core State Standards that have been adopted by 40 states, oftentimes art gets "short shrift in high-poverty schools under intense pressure to boost academic performance," according to an article by the Hechinger Report.

Ascend Learning, a network of seven charter schools in Brooklyn, does the opposite. It goes to great lengths to "ensure students living in the world’s cultural capital aren’t deprived of art, as so many poor, minority kids in urban America are."

"Inside renovated buildings that could pass for high-end galleries, students are not only taking art and music classes, but teachers incorporate art into academic subjects," the article said.

Ascend Learning refuses to throw out its art education in favor of test prep because it insists that the skills art education teaches- passion, creativity, and innovation- are necessary to prepare for the workforce as well.

Ascend CEO Steven F. Wilson not only strives to give students a good art education, he also strives to create buildings that foster the creativity he seeks to instruct. For this reason, his schools themselves could pass for works of art.

"Wilson’s team found money-saving tricks to create an elegant, museum-like look, using mock-walnut floorboards made of linoleum and painting walls in inviting colors like 'grey cashmere' and 'sea haze.'"

As for the curriculum, the schools use the arts "to help children make sense of highly complex texts, with each grade focusing on a particular theme," the article said.

Instead of throwing test prep to the wayside, the schools use art as a means to prep.

"Crystal Lane, a seventh-grade humanities teacher at Brooklyn Ascend, said she has been teaching her students test-prep skills — in the context of reading Emily Dickinson’s poetry and Henry David Thoreau’s 'Walden.'"

Though students at Ascend struggled to meet tough new proficiency standards in Common Core exams, administrators are confident time will show impact. Not only did Ascend schools outperform public schools in the area, they also beat city averages in some grades and subjects.

Read the full article here and comment below.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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