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A generation of future entrepreneurs denied essential skills

Cross-posted from Eclectablog.

To hear Governor Snyder tell it, Republicans haven't reduced school funding. Everything is great for Michigan schools, he will tell you. If you want the real story, however, start attending your local school board meetings and listen to the decision-makers grappling with ever-shrinking budgets that have them choosing between offering our educators the wages and benefits they deserve and shutting down schools and eliminating programs. The reality is that our state government is starving our K-12 public schools and those chickens are beginning to come home to roost.

This past week, the Lansing Public School District announced that it is firing all 87 physical education, music and art teachers:

Lansing elementary students will soon say goodbye to all their art, music, and gym teachers.

They’re among 87 staff positions getting the ax this year.

The district’s got to scrape together $6 million in savings...

Now the remaining teachers need to find a way to work all that art, music and gym curriculum into their regular classrooms.  

Teacher association president Patti Seidl says they’re already working to figure out how to team teach those subjects in each grade. {...}

Here’s an extra challenge: teachers also gave up their planning time in this round of negotiations. When it comes to lesson planning or grading, some middle school teachers are now down to just a 24-minute lunch break, says Seidl.

Plus, between paying more for health care premiums and salary concessions, Lansing teachers are now making what they did back in 2005.

So, not only will classroom teachers will now have to integrate art, music and phys. ed. into their daily routine, adding additional tasks to those they already have, they'll have less time to plan for it so will be working at home more after their normal working hours AND we're paying them less and offering less benefits.

It isn't just Lansing schools, by the way. The Michigan Department of Education estimates that there are 108,000 students who don't receive any arts education in their schools.

If there was ever a group that deserves the right to "Go Galt", public school teachers are it.

The fact is, this goes way beyond the screwing of public school teachers. Obviously the elimination of phys. ed. is likely to have negative implications on the health of Lansing school kids and will raise health care costs in the long-term. But there's something even more harmful to our state in the elimination of arts programs. It is a short-sighted action that will have long-term negative effects that will do great harm to our state's economy.

The impact on the economic future of Michigan has to do with our state's residents' collective entrepreneurship. How? Consider this quote by Sandra S. Ruppert, the Director of the Arts Education Partnership:

Creativity is the precursor to innovation and the cornerstone of entrepreneurship. It is essential to the design and development of new products, services and processes.
The idea that arts curricula benefit the creative thinking processes that stimulate entrepreneurial activities that, in turn, generate economic health and growth isn't new and it's now part of mainstream thinking when it comes to educational priorities. Here's former Education Secretary Arne Duncan in remarks he made at the Arts Education Partnership National Forum in 2010:
I believe that arts education can help build the case for the importance of a well-rounded, content-rich curriculum in at least three ways.

First, the arts significantly boost student achievement, reduce discipline problems, and increase the odds that students will go on to graduate from college. Second, arts education is essential to stimulating the creativity and innovation that will prove critical to young Americans competing in a global economy. And last, but not least, the arts are valuable for their own sake, and they empower students to create and appreciate aesthetic works. {...}

Low-income students who play in the orchestra or band are more than twice as likely to perform at the highest levels in math as peers who do not play music. In James Catterall's well-known longitudinal study, Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art, low-income students at arts-rich high schools were more than twice as likely to earn a B.A. as low-income students at arts-poor high schools.

English language learners at arts-rich high schools were also far more likely than their peers at arts-poor high schools to go on to college.

In addition to the creation of an "entrepreneurship class", Duncan refers to the positive impacts on graduation rates and the overall academic achievement of students receiving a well-rounded education that includes the arts. He's not making this stuff up. Studies show that students that receive arts education:

The other night on Tony Trupiano's radio show, Tony asked me if I think that state budgets are moral documents. I absolutely DO believe this. With budgets, we tell our citizens what we value; what we think is most important. Vice President Joe Biden puts it this way, talking about Republicans' attitudes about education:

They say and they talk about valuing education… My dad used to have an expression...‘Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I will tell you what you value.’ Don’t tell me you value women in the workplace and you don’t hire any women. And don’t tell me you value education and you won’t invest in looks as though they’ve decided that public education is not worth the investment anymore.
Michigan Republicans, led by Governor Rick Snyder -- a man who claims to value education and wants to reinvigorate our economy now and into the future -- have a budget that tells you absolutely everything you need to know about their self-proclaimed "valuing" of education.

Put simply: they do not.

At best, our schools are a place to pull hundreds of millions of dollars from to give tax breaks to their corporate friends and benefactors. At worst, they're cash cows. Profit centers. Opportunities to be privatized and turned into profit-making ventures where investment in our kids' futures and educational outcomes take a backseat to bottom lines and earnings statements.

We are starving our schools and it's going to harm our kids and our state far, far into the future.

[Artwork by Theo W. (aka "The O") | Biden photo credit: Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog]

Originally posted to Eclectablog - eclectic blogging for a better tomorrow on Sat Mar 23, 2013 at 11:06 AM PDT.

Also republished by Michigan, My Michigan, State & Local ACTION Group, and In Support of Labor and Unions.

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