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Certification Requirements Put Art Magnet Schools At Risk
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Connecticut’s Department of Education is requiring that all public school teachers become certified. That includes art professionals who teach at state magnet schools. WNPR’s Marie Kuhn reports these dancers, musicians and artists warn that these requirements could threaten the future of the schools.

New Haven’s  Educational Center for the Arts, or ECA is a part-time regional arts magnet school. Kids take their academics in the morning at their regular schools, then go to ECA in the afternoon to study dance, theater, music, visual arts and creative writing.

Parent Leslie Redmond, a certified teacher herself, says teachers at ECA offer students more than knowledge and training. They offer understanding of  the artistic temperament.

"A lot of these kids I think, probably feel like they don't quite fit in in their regular high school, and this is their salvation, ok, I'll take my chemistry, I'll take my math class, I'll take my biology, but then, I get to go perform, or dance, or sing or do what I'm so passionate about."

Getting into the program is competitive.  Once accepted, students work with professionals in their fields -- jazz musicians, comedy writers, poets, painters, choreographers, theater directors, and orchestra conductors.

Roy Wiseman has been teaching at ECA for almost 20 years. He plays double bass and leads professional ensembles. He’s also the orchestra conductor at Wesleyan University.

"I probably wouldn't be here if I were required to be certified. I mean, I'm already teaching at the college level, and I probably wouldn't pursue that. It's not really relevant to what I do."

And going through the certification process can be expensive, costing up to $9,000. ECA’s part time teachers are paid hourly wages with no benefits, even though most hold masters of fine arts degrees, and even doctorates.

Alice Schilling is the director at ECA.  She worries that non-certified faculty will opt to leave rather than go through the process. And she says getting certified teachers to work part-time will be challenging.

"If you're certified in the state to teach pre-K to 12 in say... visual arts, you're not going to teach at ECA one day a week. You're going to look for a full-time position in another school system."

ECA is not alone.  Other arts magnet programs -- in Trumbull, New London and Hartford -- face the same dilemma.

These regional magnet schools have been viewed as an important piece of the state’s response to the Sheff vs. O’Neill desegregation ruling. They’ve done a good job addressing the racial isolation of urban school districts by successfully attracting suburban kids into cities. ECA alone attracts students from 23 different districts.

Education officials say ECA’s program will only be strengthened by the state and federal teacher certification requirements. And they say… rules are rules.  Schools that receive state and federal dollars will have to comply with the requirements. 

Spokesman Tom Murphy:

"The state of Connecticut, and federal law under No Child Left Behind require that all public school teachers hold a state license, a license to teach, which involves not only content knowledge, knowing math, science, ect -- but also having a preparation in pedagogy -- an ability to instruct."

Murphy says being a professional artist doesn’t necessarily make you a good teacher, and he says Connecticut offers special programs to help artists become certified.

"What it does provide is a life-time certification as a public school teacher, and access to appropriate pay, benefits, and retirement. Today, these part time teachers don't have access to those things."

But many on the ECA faculty say they would not teach full-time because they work full-time in their artistic fields.

Music teacher Roy Wiseman says ECA's strength is that students get direct access to professional artists.

"The way ECA is set up is it's really in effect a college level program, and you know, kids have to come up to that standard. I think they learn some things from working with me that they might not with somebody else with a different experience."

Part-time arts magnet schools in Hartford and New London are transitioning into full-time programs. But it wouldn't be cost-effective for ECA to become full-time. Regional arts magnet schools are hoping the state will offer a more flexible position on certification requirements. 

Currently, teachers have until 2014 to complete the certification process.

Related Links:

WNPR's Where We LiveWhat do We Mean by "Qualified" Teachers?


Educational Center for the Arts

Connecticut Department of Education

No Child Left Behind

Sheff V. O'Neill Settlement

Music Arrangement by ECA Student Yonni Battat
Music Arrangement by ECA Student Yonni Battat

3:48 minutes (1.83 MB)
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ECA Alumni, very thankful

I am very thankful to be an alumni of the Educational Center for the Arts (ECA) in New Haven. The ECA experience helped me to find my calling and inspire me to embark on a path of learning that is still unfolding today, +20 years on. My time at ECA, with it's teachers and students gave me a foundation for the work I do today - advising people, organisations and institutions worldwide on how they can better innovate. Thanks Anna B; Thanks to the solidarity of students; Thanks to ECA.

ECA provides a vital service to students who are not well served by the standard high school curriculum. Students who have a special artistic talent flounder in traditional schools, but can flourish in programmes tailored to enhancing their talent. In such programmes, such as ECA, people learn not only how to deepen their current skills, but also how to deepen any skill - they learn how to design their lives and become strong individuals who later contribute to society in important ways. ECA alumni include business owners, doctors and artists - each of whom attribute their success to the role ECA played in helping them believe in themselves and their abilities.

Jeffer London,
Motivational speaker, Innovation advisor, MBA professor


My name is Peg Sullivan and I am a parent of a junior at the Educational Center
for the Arts in New Haven, as well as being an alumni of ECA. I can acknowledge
firsthand how important the program is for my son, as well as the enormously positive
influence ECA had in my own preparation for college and my career as a digital
graphic artist.

As an ECA student, I was privileged to have professional, practicing artists as teachers
and benefited enormously from the experience, with exposure during high school to
college-level instructors involved in the local art scene. That exposure made my high
school experience unique, and is the crux of ECA's mission, which continues today for
my son, a student in the Music Department. The qualifications of the instructors at ECA
today in both their education, professional accomplishments and courses they teach at
area colleges should be taken into account. We are fortunate they have chosen to
support ECA's Mission and everything possible should be done to retain them.

The State's present argument that it is unjustified to refuse to become certified––and that
enough time is presently allowed to do so–is unreasonable and an unecessarily narrow
interpretation of the current policy. Placing many successful magnet programs in
jeopardy by mandating across-the-board certification, without looking at their unique
nature and benefits, short-changes our children's potential. Surely we can do better for
our children and their future success than to force proven, alternative programs out
of existence.

Magnet programs like ECA's meet Connecticut's own Framework for High School
Redesign for providing "authentic experience, up-to-date career preparation and
programs that nurture the potential of each and every child" in an incredibly unique and
successful manner, and should be protected and encouraged to thrive.

It seems obvious a distinction in policy should be made between mandated certification
for multi-discipline or special needs professionals and highly-specialized, magnet school
professionals, such as ours at the Educational Center for the Arts. I hope the State will
consider that distinction and work toward a positive outcome.


Learning at ECA

I am currently a student in the Theatre Department at ECA. This issue is naturally of vital importance to me. The atmosphere, teachers, and level of work at ECA are quite different than what is offered at other venues. ECA is based on the idea of the teaching artist, a person who is heavily qualified and passionate in their artwork, communicating this skill to devoted students. At ECA, I receive college level training. Rather than in most schools, where the emphasis is often on the performance, the piece of art, the recital, the concert, at ECA we focus on process and technique. This emphasis is only attained if we are taught by those who have worked in these fields, and put these techniques into practice for many years.

Spokesman Murphy makes an interesting arguement. However, I have a different understanding of No Child Left Behind. According to what I know of it, it says that teachers must be highly qualified. That is all. This is by no means a mandate for certified, liscensed teachers. It is open to interpretation. The State has interpreted it is as so, and can interpret further. Spokesman Murphy also argues that a professional artist is not always a qualified teacher. I must answer that with the fact that a professional teacher is not always a qualified artist. There are some who are, no question, but some who are not. To think that those who are not would be given preference over those who are highly skilled artists is detrimental to the school, and to the community at large. Knowledge of the art and the ability to teach it is not the same as being highly qualified. Passion for the art and extensvie training in it, and it solely, is, and should be, the definition of highly qualified.

The Education Center for the Arts is an amazing program. It combines students with tremendous passion and talent with teachers who care about them and are extensively trained in their art. If anyone is concerned with whether the students are learning, I invite them to any one of our performances, sharings, or gallery opens. They will be amazed by my peer's work. This is not a simple testiment to my peers, but to my teachers, and all teachers at ECA. Because of their work, tremendous learning is going on. Is this not what education is all about? One would think that a high school program producing this level of work and skill would be a state treasure. Why is it not considered so when writing legislature?

      My name is Laura

      My name is Laura Mesite. I graduated from ECA's music department in 2007, and I'm currently a music performance/ cognitive science dual degree student at the University of Connecticut. 

      After two years of taking as many music classes as I could at my local high school, I decided to audition for ECA in hopes that I could be better prepared for attending college as a music major. My local high school offered a number of ensembles at the time, but the music was not challenging in order to accommodate all playing levels, and very few music theory/history classes were offered.

       The music department at ECA offers a wider variety of more challenging ensembles, theory classes that go beyond high school level theory, compositional classes that instruct the students in the use of musical notation software, performances by visiting professional musicians, compulsory writing assignments as well as theory/ composition homework to tie in academic subject matter with music, and electives in which students can experience another art form. Clearly this is much more than most local music departments offer. 

      Choosing to attend ECA was hands down the best decision I've ever made. I was so well prepared for college that I was able to skip levels of ear training and theory, and I'm receiving straight A's. I know that if it weren't for my theory training from ECA, I would be struggling with theory as the majority of my UConn classmates have been. Not only did the theory classes prepare me well, but the musical software instruction in my composition classes has really put me ahead of my fellow students as well.

      The variety and caliber of ensembles at ECA definitely gave me a head start as well. I was able to skip playing in band altogether and started in Wind Ensemble and Orchestra at UConn. The other horn players in the section are always surprised by my knowledge of repertoire and by how easily orchestral playing comes to me. It wasn't always easy considering, like most students, my local school did not have a symphony orchestra, but ECA came to the rescue once again and provided me with that experience. Many of my fellow students had not played in chamber groups in high school, but my experience in brass and woodwind quintets at ECA put me ahead of my fellow students once again. 

       Attending ECA really helped me become more independent and outgoing. I used to be withdrawn and shy, but by the end of my first year I had opened up quite a bit. Everyone at my high school had grown up together and were pretty similar. At ECA I had to re-learn how to make new friends and was exposed to many different types of people rather than the homogenous students from my local high school. The diverse group of students coupled with the cultural electives offered, really opened my mind like never before. I learned sign language, hip hop, circus arts, Chinese folk dance, and Salsa dancing in just two years! I can't tell you how often the ASL comes in handy as a cognitive science major, and the dance and circus classes provided me with cultural knowledge that I take with me as well. The college-like class schedule and high-class expectations coupled with meeting new, different types of people really helped bridge the gap between high-school and college like no other schools can.

       The teachers are the heart of ECA. I go to school right along side future music teachers at one of the top-ranked education schools in the country. I know they're capabilities. I believe that such certified teachers are qualified to teach music to students who are not planning to make music a profession, but I feel that they lack experience which is key to teaching future musicians. This is why these teachers with years and years of experience with performing, teaching, networking, and masters and doctorate degrees from top-notch schools (at least four of the ECA music dept. staff went to Yale) should remain at ECA and other schools designed to train artists who want to become professionals. 

       There is enough socioeconomic inequality already. If these teachers are removed from public schools, then a number of them will most certainly teach at private schools. Private school students already have an advantage in that they have money and prestige. If they are the only ones allowed to have such great teachers, then it will make it even harder for public school students to succeed. 

         As far as I'm concerned, years and years of teaching/ performing experience, a Doctorate from Yale, and a job as a professor at a top-ranked private university trumps a newly graduated certified teacher any day. 










Certification for Arts Magnet School Teachers


I teach poetry to the students at ECA in the Creative Writing Department. I am a poet with two books of poetry published by Carnegie Mellon University Press and I have taught and continue to teach at the University-level in addition to my duties at ECA. 
I am deeply concerned about the certification requirements that seem to be coming, because I love ECA's students who are driven, extremely talented, and amazing. I want to continue teaching at ECA, but there is no way I could choose to get certified, even using the Alternate Route to Certification (ARC). I could see that it would be an option if I wanted a full-time position as a teacher in a high school, but for me, someone who wants to continue in my profession as a writer and a college teacher (I have two master's degrees in English), it would be too costly, and I would have to give up ECA in order to take on additional classes at area colleges. 
While certification requirements may make sense for teachers in the public schools who are expected to ground students in standard subjects--science, math, English--I hope that Connecticut will come to recognize that Arts Magnet Schools have a different mission than "regular" public high schools, and that Arts Magnet Schools need to attract and retain faculty who will contribute most successfully to that mission. 
Thanks for the interesting show.

Margot Schilpp
Poetry Teacher
Educational Center for the Arts


Certification for Arts Magnet School Instructors

My name is Noah Baerman and I’m a jazz pianist and a 1992 graduate of the Educational Center for the Arts. At the time I decided to go to ECA, I was an Ivy-bound honor student in North Haven, and it was a big risk for me to change course and go to study music at a magnet school. I took the gamble because I felt determined to forge a career in the arts and sensed that only that sort of pre-professional training would put me in a position to eventually get there.

Fast forward to today, and I have done pretty well, with a number of CD releases, nine published instructional books and teaching jobs at several universities. I make a decent living practicing my craft (no small feat in this day and age), and I can look back and see that, indeed, the head start that ECA provided me was directly responsible for this success. Much of that came from the specific guidance and instruction that can only come from experienced, working artists.

The world of jazz training has always operated largely on an apprenticeship system, whereby skilled and experienced practitioners communicate their wisdom in a hands-on manner to the up-and-comers. To have access to that as a high school student is not only a gift, but it is in most cases a necessity for those who aspire to professional viability. I needed a mentor who was having real-life experiences in the field to show me the things for which I needed to be prepared in the “real world,” not one who put those pursuits on hold in order to go about becoming certified.

To me, this is not primarily about artists wishing to avoid the time and expense of further training, though that time and expense is substantial, prohibitively so for many part-time instructors. This is about giving tomorrows artists a reasonable shot at success. As part of that, we need to find a sensible compromise that will make secondary arts education a viable path for the very instructors who tomorrow’s artists so desperately need as mentors. While I understand the bureaucratic need for uniformity of certification standards, I do hope that consideration is given to the ways in which this could compromise the education of arts magnet school students. However well-intentioned this certification requirement might be, in practice it is not a policy that would embrace educational diversity, which is one of the main goals of this reorganization process.