Common Core Standards and Museum Education
Rewind with me to last February 2011 when the whisper of the Common Core State Standards was nothing but a murmur in the museum education community. One of the very first professional development sessions I encountered on this subject of this mysterious new federal education initiative was at the Face-to-Face conference for New York City Arts in Educators Roundtable. Fearless leaders and brilliant minds Karen Rosner, Visual Arts Coordinator for the NYC Department of Education and Sharon Vatsky, Director of Education at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, took a roomful of Art educators on quite a ride through a PowerPoint providing evidence for “Career and College Readiness” by assessing student artwork and writing exercises. They made a case for the kinds of learning happening in art museums, through gallery experiences and art making, learning that prepares students for careers and college and echoes the kind of learning federal education folks suppose will change the face of K-12 education in 48 states across America.
A mentor of mine, Sonnet Takahisa (one of the founders ofThe Museum School in New York City) told me when I started my job as Manager of School Programs at the Queens Museum of Art that Museums can play a role as the “anti-school” with the challenge of speaking the school language. I completely agree and supporting Common Core learning in my institution affords all of my colleagues and me the ability to do just that.
Common Core State Standards are all about good teaching and learning – hinged on good research and rigorous application of knowledge. The standards ask students to be creative and innovative while providing evidence for their actions. Common Core State Standards are not about what we ask our students to know but how we can ask our students to learn. So what I learned from Karen and Sharon from the very beginning of this national education focus shift is that Museums and Arts educators have had it right all along.
I can’t imagine any one of our school visits to the Panorama of the City of New York that doesn’t ask kids to problem solve and support their opinions with evidence from the objects and details they observe in the gallery. I don’t think I’ve ever walked into a class taught by a Queens Museum of Art teaching artist, whether its in a partner school or the museum workshop, that isn’t challenging kids to think creatively and innovate while making connections to the world outside their classroom.
School administrators are also finding commonalities between the skills that prepare students for college and careers and the skills that develop within museum walls. For the sake of evidence to support my argument (see – I am already making “Core” changes in my opinion and argument writing ) during a professional development session I facilitated for District 30, Queens Magnet School coordinators, one teacher from the crowd developed a writing exercise he could administer post-Queens Museum visit, to extend the lines of inquiry beyond the gallery and support ELA standards.
I realized from this experience that it is not my job to BE a schoolteacher, but instead provide experiences that serve as launchpads FOR teachers to do what they do best. Core Curriculum allows formal and non-formal educators play to our own strengths. I should do what I do best – talk with kids about art. The rest will follow.