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Video: Is Lafayette Parish Schools Selling a “Visual Strategy” or Common Core?

September 6, 2014

Let’s examine a program known as Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). They’ve been around for a while. It is important to note that VTS predates test-driven education “reform,” both the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB):

VTS is a well-known program developed by Abigail Housen and Philip Yenawine more than twenty years ago, used in museums both locally and internationally, as well as in schools, colleges and universities.  The founders of VTS incorporated Visual Understanding in Education as a non-profit organization in 1995 with a mission to broaden the use of VTS, deepen our research, and increase the understanding of Aesthetic Development.

Today, VTS is one of the most significant art education and critical thinking programs with a national presence. We are a small staff with an active national volunteer board, along with regional VTS boards which support teams of trainers and consultants through out the country and the world.

VTS is looking to establish itself in the K12 classroom, and these days, VTS has found it useful to advertise that “VTS fits into the Common Core Standards puzzle.”

One school system that is posting a video ad for VTS is in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Watch Lafayette Parish teachers and admin in this four-and-a-half-minute VTS promo:

<p><a href=”″>VTS Works for Indiegogo</a> from <a href=””>Visual Thinking Strategies</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>


Lafayette Parish Schools is all for CCSS.

In their video promo for VTS, Lafayette teachers and administration pitch for VTS. They note that it helps students who are not good at reading and writing. They note that VTS works because test scores are high.

But I am confused.

First, if VTS predates CCSS and VTS raises test scores, why do we need CCSS?

Second, if the benefit of VTS is that it helps students who are not as good at reading and writing, how is it that these “not so good readers and writers” are producing high test scores?

Third, if CCSS is only now being fully implemented in classrooms nationwide and Louisiana has not even taken any supposedly-fully-aligned CCSS assessments, how is it that VTS is so surely raising scores on tests that are certainly connected to CCSS?

Fourth, what magic will VTS work in the light of highly-likely, ever-shifting,capriciously-set high-stakes-testing cut scores?

Fifth, how is it that teachers and administrators are pleased to value aesthetic learning based upon the narrow outcome of higher test scores?

Finally, if VTS taps into aesthetics– which has children discussing feelings– how does this promote that “text dependency” that CCSS “architect” David Coleman promotes as trumping those feelings that “people don’t really give a s**t about”?


I just thought I’d ask.




  1. H.A. Hurley permalink

    Open ended discussions were always part of teaching. Even without SMART Boards did teachers elicit conversations, encourge students to look at details, connect learning to other knowledge and so on.
    The methodology I keep seeing in these videos related to CCSS, is the emphasis to ‘open-endedness’. Some of it is OK, but it is pervasive in Math, in the video related to this article…when will children learn the right answer? Many children with attention issues and/or disabilities get lost in all the dialogue, affirmations from teachers encouraging more dialogue…and miss the factual information.
    BTW, tests are about facts and accuracy. Especially, the narrow band of CCSS.
    Any teacher who attended a respectable university program and took the required coursework, along with SpEd and all the methods courses, was trained in these methods. Nothing new except the SMART Board.
    CCSS is creeping into every fiber of Americana! They connect dots that are not there because they sent out a piece of s***, and now they are trying to put a shine on it. People will fall for it.

    I have read numerous Tweets from Michael Petrilli, President of Fordham Institute, BS PolicSci so-called educ expert, posting classroom information to be shared in our classes. Functioning more like a clearing house for teaching info because there are no texts and teachers have to research and locate EVERYTHING with CCSS. We will see more of this, especially with TFAtypes replacing credentialed experienced teachers.
    The shine on the CCSS Turd is ALMOST blinding me.
    Where are my sunglasses?

  2. God this makes me mad. Arts in Education b is nothing new, just pushed out of the curriculum by” high standrds” and the quest for higher test scores. If I had had the money and PR firm to video my classes the last 15 year’s, conjured up a name like VTS (which has to be explained unlike Art in Education), and copyrighted it as though it were something new, I would be a millionaire. Maybe now that we are retired and the state won’t even let us substitute or mentor anymore, we should start cashing in on these miraculous “new” methodologies by charging lots of money for our lesson plans. I could change my name, say I was former TFA and White would write up a $49,996.00 contract post haste

  3. Oh, and don’t standstill too long or Common Core will put a stamp on you.

  4. In your efforts to highlight an ineptness I do not evidence via my use of questioning the obvious to prove a point, you undermined your own credibility by misspelling “cannot.”


  5. Chris’s – You don’t seem to understand Mercedes’ point and maybe I don’t understand yours but… VTS, which is simply integrating arts into education and has been promoted for quite some years without the fancy name or promo, is not a standard nor can it be associated with Common Core standards. It’s methodology, teaching strategy as you said and which Mercedes pointed out, which should be integrated into the curriculum and now that Common Core is all the rage it has adopted the claim that it is aligned with or effects the miraculous results of Common Core standards. Soon babies will be stamped with the Common Core logo when they exit the womb.

  6. H.A. Hurley permalink

    Geauxteacher ~

    I can picture it now: every little baby bottom will have a CCSS stamp similar to the Eggland’s Best EB logo on supermarket eggs.
    Never too early to brand the College & Career Ready Kiss from Gates.
    Father Gates Know Best? Step aside parents…

  7. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Many preexisting arts-related (and other) programs are rebranding themselves to capitalize on the CCSS, in about the same way, arts educators jumped on the 21st century skills bandwagon constructed by tech lobbyist Ken Kay because they saw the word “creativity.”

    It is obvious that programs in the arts, including the visual arts are being cut and shortened in duration by the test-em-til-they drop policies that have infected most schools. In the 2011 MetLife survey, 23% of teachers reported that during the past 12 months, there had been reductions or eliminations of arts and music and these were greatest in schools with more than two-thirds minority students, 30%, versus 19% in other schools. I haven’t found an update on program cuts, but studies in the arts have not been valued in many schools and for a very long time.

    I wrote a book about this problem a long time ago (1982, Instant Art, Instant Culture: The Unspoken Policy for American Schools), noting how many ways art educators tried to bootleg studies in the arts into schools. Can’t go in the front door so it seems reasonable to pitch some attachment to something else that can easily enter the house of education. If this gets a bit of art into schools, so much the better. That is not my thinking, but it is a common place.

    The Visual Thinking program is only one of many examples of rebranding for the moment. It was started as a museum-based program with original works of art. Kids trouped into the museum for more than a walk and gawk tour. They learned to engage in extended conversations about what they saw and thought about. That program morphed into the train-the-teacher program being marketed now, I am aware of the research-based claims for ancillary “academic” benefits prior to the CCSS.

    That said, there is an alternative, also with supporting evidence that sustained conversation about art images will boost the vocabulary for students, especially in the early elementary grades and with English language learners. That program, Discussions4Learning, was developed by an ELA specialist who also has a lot of savvy about the enchantments of looking at provocative works of art, the value of using stock photos as complementary visual referents , and the importance of sustained and structured conversations with adults and peers–learning to speak and listen and understand.

    The images and teachers guide in the Discussions4Learning program are scripted, primarily because so many early elementary teachers have little confidence if art, but are better in leading conversations. The sessions are also scripted because teachers in the lower grades would not usually think that kids would relish saying a word like “enormous,” be enthusiastic about teaching peers to say it out loud, or be hugely proud of recalling that word several weeks later as a good word to describe something seen in a different context.

    I could mention other programs. E. D. Hirsch, for example, has rebranded his Core Knowledge program for the CCSS It has an arts component linked to social studies, now and then science. Lynn Munson executive director of Common Core (pre-dating the CCSS) has developed ELA “curriculum maps” with an arts component in each unit. The units are strictly aligned with the CCSS. Some of the visual arts selected for inclusion are from Munson’s previous project “Picturing America.” In that project, she gathered superior prints of works from museums and put them into portfolios sent to schools. Munson was then Director of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

    I guess the bottom line is that not many educators in any subject are free from the CCSS emphasis on ELA and math–the longstanding “tools” for learning everything else. The “new” arts standards refer to the CCSS. I have not seen much anxiety about the CCSS classification of the arts as “technical subject.” There is not much in the CCSS for arts education through hands on creative work. Few arts educators who can get a foot in the door are going to be slaves to all of the verbatim nonsense and no discussion of feelings/personal experience in the CCSS.

  8. Arts education is hanging on by a thread. “Most people suppose that artists are the decorators
    of our human existence, the esthetes to whom the cultivated may turn when the real business
    of the day is done. But actually, what an artist is is a person skilled in expressing human feeling.
    Far from being merely decorative, the artist’s awareness is one of the few guardians of the inherent
    sanity and equilibrium of the human spirit we have.” (Robert Motherwell, 1970)

  9. Jon permalink

    That bunch in Lafayette have been hitting the Kool-Aid vat – supe, asst supe, director of academics, elem. ELA supervisor. The sand is almost gone from their hourglass.

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