The latest wave of national school reform—the Common Core State Standards—provides a new set of opportunities and challenges for arts education. Having experienced several prior waves of school reform, I must admit to a certain degree of cynicism.
If history is any guide, we will over-promise on the impact of these standards and under-invest in providing teachers the tools and support they will need to be effective. Still, there are important opportunities to consider.
Advocates behind the Common Core suggest this new approach will emphasize critical thinking and analysis, and move us behind the fragmented curriculum standards where content is a mile wide and only an inch deep. This would be a positive change. Further, the Common Core initiative aspires to a new system of testing that would replace the multiple choice format with more authentic assessments using online technologies. This too could be a step forward.
It is tempting for providers of arts education programs to simply stamp the phrase “aligned with Common Core” over our existing curricular resources. This would be a mistake and a lost opportunity. Instead, I would suggest we look for ways to join the many planning processes underway in our respective states and local school districts. We should be at those tables along with other educators as we all grapple with the challenges of “implementing” the Common Core. Such collaborations can lead to a stronger place for arts and arts integration as the Common Core rolls out.
Once we join the planning tables as advocates for arts education, I would suggest a degree of humility is in order. Common Core is new for all of us. We have much to learn and consider before we claim “arts programs already support this!” Here are some questions we might ask ourselves:
How much reading do students do in my arts program? How much do I know about texts they are reading in other courses? What are the most appropriate texts I would want students to read to deepen their understanding of art history, art criticism, or aesthetic considerations?
How much writing do students do in my arts program? Just as we praise the ability of the arts disciplines to communicate ideas from other content areas in new ways, so might we look to student writing to assess their ability to understand and communicate important ideas in the arts.
How much speaking do students do in my arts program? With an emphasis on rehearsing and performing, many students have little opportunity to speak up and communicate their ideas in a band room or dance studio. Beyond the actor on a stage, how well are we teaching presentation skills in our arts programs?
How ready are our students to be effective in a real-world audition or interview setting?
So my recipe for success in the new world of Common Core is as follows: a dose of caution + a drop of humility + some careful reflection + active involvement in planning = success for arts education and the students we serve.