Ready To Learn Series Gets the Red Carpet Treatment

Cross-posted from the OII blog.


Billy Aronson (second from left) and Jennifer Oxley, co-creators of “Peg + Cat,” a production of the Fred Rogers Company, share their Emmy Awards for “Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Series” and “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for Production Design” with Ready to Learn (RTL) Program Manager Brian Lekander (left) and RTL Program Officer Adam Bookman. (Department of Education photo by Paul Wood)

Peg + Cat, the animated PBS KIDS math series launched last fall, won three Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards last month, including Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Series. Funded in part by ED’s Ready To Learn (RTL) program, the series follows the spirited Peg and her loyal sidekick Cat, as they embark on hilarious musical adventures, learning math concepts along the way. The series provides young viewers with a new way to experience math and highlights its importance in a variety of everyday situations. Music is used as a teaching tool throughout the series and each episode features an original song.

Series co-creator and executive producer Jennifer Oxley also received the Emmy forOutstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for Production Design. Oxley made her first film at the age of 7 and has devoted much of her professional career to educational television and film, including direction of 15 short films for Sesame Street, as well as the award-winning adaptation of Spike Lee and Tanya Lewis Lee’s children’s book, Please, Baby, Please. Eleven-year-old Hayley Faith Negrin, the voice of Peg and the youngest nominee at this year’s Daytime Emmy Awards, received the award for Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Program.

In a press release from The Fred Rogers Company, the nonprofit producer of Peg + Cat, Paul Siefken, the company’s vice president of broadcast and digital media, said, “We’re delighted that the Emmy Awards committee has recognized Peg + Cat as an exceptional series with much to offer for today’s preschoolers and families.” In its premiere week last October, the television series reached 2.2 million children; in a typical month between October and May, more than 10 million individuals ages 2 and up, as well as 6.7 million households, viewed the show’s episodes.

Like all Ready To Learn initiatives, Peg + Cat employs a variety of media to engage children and families in early learning and school readiness, with a particular focus on low-income children. In addition to the television series, the Peg + Cat multi-platform media experience employs interactive mobile and online content, including games and other online resources at, and additional interactive features, including steaming video, parent and educator resources, and mobile apps. In the first season, the online game collection received nearly 14 million pageviews and a Peg + Cat mobile app was downloaded more than 42,000 times. Community engagement with schools is also an important outreach strategy, and to date more than 1,200 educators and 15,000 children and families have participated in 88 school events.

Peg + Cat is partially funded through a $71 million RTL grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Service. The RTL program encourages and supports the development and use of television and digital media to promote early learning and school readiness for young children and their families, as well as the dissemination of educational outreach programs and materials to promote school readiness. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Service are one of three RTL grant recipients, each of which received awards in 2010.

Doug Herbert is a special assistant in the Office of Innovation and Improvement and editor of the OII home page.

Jazz Takes Center Stage in April


Cross-posted from the OII blog.

Jazz, that most American of art forms, takes center stage all of April as we celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) in the U.S. and throughout the world. Under the leadership of the Smithsonian Institution, JAM annually focuses on the music as well as its connections to America’s history and democratic values, including cultural diversity, creativity, innovation, discipline, and teamwork.

This year, JAM celebrates the 50th anniversary of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, a four-part suite that marked the melding of the hard bop sensibilities of the iconic saxophonist and composer’s early career with the free jazz style he later adopted. The annual JAM poster features Coltrane’s likeness, captured by American artist Joseph Holston from his screen print Jazz.

The Department of Education annually distributes the JAM posters to more than 16,000 middle schools in America. In a letter accompanied by the poster, OII’s Acting Assistant Deputy Secretary Nadya Chinoy Dabby encourages the schools’ principals to participate in JAM activities taking place in the 50 states and to take advantage of the Smithsonian’s jazz collection and its many Web-based educational materials that support learning across the K-12 curriculum.

There are literally hundreds of ways to celebrate jazz this month. Whether you’re a teacher, band director, student, or parent, Smithsonian Jazz has ideas for you. Click here to get started.

Doug Herbert is a special assistant in the Office of Innovation and Improvement and editor of the OII home page.

A Month to Support the Arts in Our Schools

Music in Our Schools Tour

The Music In Our Schools Tour, featuring Danielle Bradbery of The Voice, which starts in Disneyland and ends at Walt Disney World, honors five schools for their excellent music programs. Pictured from left to right: Student Wendy Holloway; student Anthony Rodarte; singer Danielle Bradbery; Mickey Mouse; and student Angelisa Calderon. (Photo courtesy of Disney Performing Arts/Scott Brinegar)

Cross-posted from the OII blog.

The arts are an important part of a well-rounded education for all students. Arts-rich schools, those with high-quality arts programs and comprehensive course offerings, benefit students in and outside of the art or dance studio, music room, or stage. “All children deserve arts-rich schools,” Secretary Duncan told an audience of arts education advocates in 2012, as he discussed the disappointing results of an ED survey that showed many students lacking adequate access to arts education.

There’s no better time to echo the secretary’s pronouncement than in March, widely known as “Arts in the Schools Month.” Under the leadership of national associations representing teachers of dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts, a variety of activities unfold throughout the month — some that showcase the achievements of students and others that focus on the professional growth of arts educators committed to achieving the goal of arts-rich schools for all students.

Music with a message

What began as a single, one-day event in one state 40 years ago is now Music In Our Schools Month (MIOSM). This year’s theme, “Music Makes Me ______,” invites students to complete that thought on social media with the hashtag #MIOSM2014. Check out the MIOSM website for a number of ways to get in harmony with the celebration, including the Concert for Music In Our Schools Month, featuring videos of school music groups nationwide performing.

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Students Share Magical Moments at Art Exhibit Opening

Student Art

A student’s work of art is displayed as part of the National PTA’s Reflections Program art exhibit at ED’s headquarters.

Magic to Do, the opening number in Pippin, could have been the theme song for the recent opening of the National PTA’s Reflections Program art exhibit at ED’s headquarters.

For nearly half a century, the National PTA has inspired millions of students to become involved in the arts through Reflections, and each year many of the winners are recognized at the Department through its Student Art Exhibit Program. This year’s exhibit includes 65 works by K–12 students from across the country and in U.S. schools abroad on the theme The Magic of a Moment. Writing, dance and film are also showcased in the exhibit.

Student Dancers Before the official ribbon-cutting that opened the exhibit, a capacity audience applauded the artistry of two Reflections competition winners in music and dance. Eighth-grader Bailey Callahan sang and performed on guitar her award-winning composition, The Magic of Moments. Jessica Clay, a high school senior and award winner for dance choreography in the newly created Special Artist Division for students with disabilities, performed her winning dance, Born to Be Somebody, with freshman dancer Kendyl Kokoyama.

The value of both the Reflections program and arts education in America’s schools was affirmed by the guest speakers at the event. Acting Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton welcomed guests to the Department and delivered the important message that arts education matters for “every school and every child.” Art not only tell a child’s personal story, he observed, but it also gives the U.S. a vital leading edge over other nations in “creativity, design, and innovation.”

National PTA President Otha Thornton explained that the PTA’s mission is to engage parents to make sure their students’ education is challenging and rewarding.  And echoing the acting deputy secretary’s observation, Thorton said the arts in education helps “students develop critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and communication skills that the core subjects can’t foster alone.”

Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), spoke about the importance of the arts as a tool to solve schools’ performance challenges, using the PCAH Turnaround Arts initiative to illustrate her point.

Click here to learn more about the magical moments shared at the Reflections exhibit opening from the OII home room blog, including photos from the event.

Doug Herbert is a special assistant in the Office of Innovation and Improvement.

Young Children Learn Math Through the Arts

Amanda Whiteman

Wolf Trap Teaching Artist Amanda Layton Whiteman integrates the arts with math in preschool classrooms as part of the Early STEM/Arts Program. (Photo by Scott Suchman, courtesy of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.)

President Obama, in the 2013 State the Union address, challenged the country to move forward simultaneously on two key educational fronts — providing high-quality preschool for all four-year olds  and preparing a new generation of Americans in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects.  Teaching artists from the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts and preschool educators in the Fairfax County (Virginia) Public Schools, with support from the U.S. Department of Education, are developing an innovative approach to achieving both of these national goals.

The Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts (Early STEM/Arts) is pioneering an innovative, research-based arts integration model for early childhood learning — one that supports math teaching and learning through active, arts-based experiences in pre-K and kindergarten classrooms.  Preschool teachers participating in the project receive professional development that enables them to apply arts-integrated lessons in their classrooms. Some report “a-ha!” moments as they work alongside Wolf Trap Teaching Artists such as Amanda Layton Whiteman (pictured above). “When I found out it was going to be math, I was saying, oh jeez, this is going to be hard,” said one teacher.  But after being involved with the artist and the arts-integrated approach, she “realized that math is everywhere.” And incorporating the arts into her everyday lessons “helps you reach every child.”

With the help of a $1.15 million Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII), the Early STEM/Arts program will disseminate evaluation results in early 2014. In the meantime, Wolf Trap Regional Programs in 16 locations nationally are gearing up to implement the new model in the 2013-14 school year.

Read OII’s “Wolf Trap Institute Unites the Arts and STEM in Early Childhood Learning” to hear more stories from those at the Wolf Trap Institute.

Meeting the Challenges of Student Writing in the Digital Age

Students in Robert Rivera-Amezola's fourth-grade classroom in Philadelphia

Students in Robert Rivera-Amezola’s fourth-grade classroom in Philadelphia work collaboratively on a writing assignment. (Photo by Jason Miczek and provided courtesy of the National Writing Project.)

Writing is an important part of the Common Core State Standards in English language arts, but what about students learning to employ the digital tools so natural to them outside the classroom to express themselves in school? The challenges to “going digital” with writing instruction range from choosing the best methods to employ the latest technological tools to accessing quality in-service and joining communities of practice to staying current with the changing definition of a “literate” citizenry.

Fortunately, there is Digital Is — a forum for teachers to share and engage with other educators in the field of digital writing — to meet these challenges. Developed by the National Writing Project, a venerable source of professional development, curricular and instructional resources, research findings, and best practices based on experiences of K-16 educators, this free Web portal is serving thousands of educators, writers, and K-12 learners.

In “Writing and Learning in a Digital Age — Digital Is,” the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Margarita Melendez conveys the multiple facets of this unique resource that is supported by funding from the Department of Education. Readers of the feature will also learn about two other OII-supported National Writing Project efforts that are providing teaching modules connected to the Common Core and a professional development program focused on rural school districts. Read the full piece: Writing and Learning in a Digital Age – Digital Is.

Arts Education and Advocacy: An Investment in Every Child’s Future

Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” April 9th was Arts Advocacy Day here in Washington, D.C., and thousands of advocates from across the country came to rally in support of arts education programs in our schools, pre-K through high school, that will solve the problem Picasso described.

The arts are an integral part of a well-rounded education, and a recent school survey by the Department revealed that millions of American students, particularly in high-need schools, have either minimal or no access to instruction in the arts. To miss out on arts learning opportunities is to miss out on gaining the very skills and habits of mind we know are essential to succeeding in life and earning a livelihood in the 21st century: creativity; observing as opposed to simply seeing; identifying as well as solving problems; thinking outside the box; and communicating with not just words but with images, sounds, and motion — these and more are inherently part of a regularly scheduled, quality arts education program.

Student Performers

Members of the Thelonious Monk Institute National Arts Performing High School Program, (l. to r.) Sterlin Brown, Joseph Quiles, and Sabrina Dias, perform for ED staff and guests in the ED headquarters.

Each Arts Advocacy Day is preceded by the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy, and this year’s lecturer, world-renown cellist and member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) Yo-Yo Ma, focused on the need for arts education in his “Art for Life’s Sake” lecture before a capacity audience at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall. Clearly, Yo-Yo Ma has lived out Picasso’s hope of remaining an artist, but just as important is his unflagging commitment to making that hope a reality for America’s young people through his work with PCAH’s Turnaround Arts initiative (a collaborative effort with ED), the Silk Road Project, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

In thousands of communities represented by arts advocates here last week, school boards are facing the same budget concerns and school leaders are facing the same tough decisions they were four years ago. But investing in arts education is a smart, pay-forward investment in every child’s education and future.  It’s among the “smart ideas” I’ve advocated before, and now is an excellent time to reiterate it.

And because it’s also a smart idea to invest in ideas and strategies for school improvement that are based on research, the Arts Education Partnership, which is supported by ED and the National Endowment for the Arts, last year launched ArtsEdSearch, an online clearinghouse for high-quality research on arts education. The first of its kind, ArtsEdSearch contains a growing number of valid research studies on the impact of arts education on students’ cognitive, emotional, and social development; on professional development outcomes for arts educators and teaching artists; and on academic achievement and other outcomes associated with arts learning in school- and community-based programs.

ArtsEdge is another source of smart ideas for arts education. Its free digital resources include lesson plans, audio stories, video clips, and interactive online modules. With support from OII’s National Arts in Education Program, the Kennedy Center’s Education Department makes these quality resources — many of which are from the Center’s own educational performances and professional development programs — available to thousands of schools and community arts partners nationwide.

Arts Advocacy Day 2013 is behind us, but we hope we will use it to renew a commitment nationwide to make our children whole through the arts and to get on to the important work still to be done to make the arts an essential part of every child’s education. We shouldn’t accept anything less.

Doug Herbert is a special assistant in the Office of Innovation and Improvement and works on issues of national arts education policy and practice.

It’s Arts in Education Week: Let’s Celebrate and Get to Work!

student dance performance

As Arts in Education Week concludes,  it is a time to recognize the importance of the arts a well-rounded education for all students. Through dance, music, theatre and the visual arts, young children explore the world through sight and sound, creative movement and drama.  Through the arts, young persons acquire invaluable cognitive abilities and social skills — problem solving and perseverance to name only two — that prepare them for the rigors of college, careers, and life in the 21st century. We also know through research that arts-rich schools make for quality learning environments, heightening student engagement and correlating with increases in attendance and decreases in behavior problems, as well as short and long-term academic achievement, including pursuing higher education and college completion.

Despite all this, a recent Department of Education survey tells us that for far too many students, the arts don’t play a role at all in their K-12 experience.  Here are some disconcerting facts as of the 2009-10 school year:

  • More than 1.3 million elementary students attended schools where no music learning occurred and 3.9 million students, in nearly 20 percent of America’s elementary schools, lacked the opportunity to paint, sculpt or draw a picture.
  • Since 2000, when an earlier survey occurred, the availability of theater and dance in elementary schools went from bad to worse —20 percent of elementary schools offered these arts disciplines in 2000; in 2010, only one out of every 33 schools offered dance and one out of every 25 offered theatre.
  • In more than 40 percent of our nation’s secondary schools, students can graduate without taking a single arts course.

What’s more troubling is the opportunity gap – the differences in access to the arts for advantaged students (in schools with less than 25 percent of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch), and disadvantaged students (in schools with more than 76 percent of students eligible for subsidized meals). For  example:

  • While nearly all (97 percent) of the lowest-poverty elementary schools offered music instruction in 2009-10, music instruction was available in only 89 percent of the highest-poverty elementary schools.  And the opportunity gap was similar for elementary visual arts instruction.
  • At the secondary level, the opportunity gaps for both music and visual arts instruction actually increased to 15 percent, with only 81 and 80 percent of high-poverty schools offering instruction in music and visual arts, respectively.

In his remarks at the April 2nd survey report release, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared these gaps a “bad news story” for disadvantaged students. They constitute “absolutely an equity issue,” he said. “All children should have arts-rich schools,” according to Secretary Duncan, but “it is clear that our public schools have a long way to go before they are providing a rich and rigorous arts education for all students.”

OII Grants Help to Innovate and Disseminate

The Office of Innovation and Improvement supports a number of competitive funding programs to improve arts teaching and learning, better understand the effects of arts education, and disseminate effective programs and practices, including:

  • OII’s Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD) grants are developing, implementing and evaluating innovative practices in arts teaching and learning, particularly in arts integration. Professional Development for Arts Educators (PDAE) grants are combining the efforts of school districts with the resources of arts and cultural organizations to improve the quality of both standards-based arts instruction and arts integration at all grade levels. This video highlights the outcomes of several AEMDD and PDAE projects.
  • Several i3 projects are exploring promising approaches to arts teaching and learning, using federal support and technical assistance to increase their understandings of why and how their efforts result in high levels of achievement in the arts and other subjects, as well as increases in engagement, teamwork, and other byproducts of quality arts education programs.
  • A majority of our Promise Neighborhoods grantees have made the arts an integral part of their plans and actions. Both planning and implementation projects are involving museums and performing arts centers, film festivals, and local arts groups as well as teaching artists and folklorists in urban, suburban, and rural communities. They are  making the arts a vital part of a cradle-to-career commitment to children and youth in our most distressed communities.

Now is the Time to Act

Use this week to take stock of how the arts are doing in your schools, districts, and states. Where the arts are available and thriving, celebrate that and bring more awareness, both in the school and community, to the importance of the arts in a well-rounded education.  But where arts courses and learning opportunities are in short supply or don’t exist at all, take action now. To get started, visit the website of the Arts Education Partnership, and within it, the Toolkit for Arts Access in U.S. Schools.

Doug Herbert is a special assistant in the Office of Innovation and Improvement and works on issues of national arts education policy and practice.