When I pulled out of my driveway on Tuesday last week, I saw one of the most indelible signs of fall: the yellow school bus stopped on the corner picking up a gaggle of children for their first day of the school year.
Most parents, if not all, sent their children off with backpacks filled with a bevy of school supplies their child’s school suggested they need to have a successful start to the year—notebooks, folders, pencils, pens, etc. But how many of those schools suggested parents arm their children for the school year with another essential set of learning tools: musical instruments, paints, brushes and dancing shoes? Sadly, not as many as we would like.
Education policies almost universally recognize the value of arts. According to the Arts Education Partnership website, 48 states have arts education standards, 44 have instructional mandates for arts in elementary schools and 32 states list the arts as a core academic subject in their education code. Nevertheless, the availability of arts education in our nation’s schools has been on the decline for more than 30 years. Frankly, that’s unacceptable. And it’s a threat to America’s future prosperity.
We need our schools to prepare students to meet the demands of the 21st century—both for the students’ sake and for the sake of our economy and our society. These demands cannot be met without comprehensive arts education in our nation’s schools.
Research shows that there is a powerful, positive relationship between study in the arts and other academic subjects, attitudes and behaviors. As a result, students who study the arts outperform those who do not. And more importantly, the arts teach discipline and creativity—arguably the skills most needed to advance in any walk of life. In addition, study of the arts also teaches creative thinking, problem-solving and communications skills—all of which are essential for today’s youth to succeed in the 21st Century workforce.
Everyone—parents, principals, elected officials, certified teachers, teaching artists, etc.—needs to do their part to ensure that our nation’s children have access to a quality arts education. But how do we know what defines a “quality” education in the arts? What exactly should be going on in the art room, rehearsal hall, studio, etc.? What constitutes a proper arts education curriculum?
“Standards” define what students should know and be able to do in any given academic discipline and are the basis for high-quality arts instruction. Because we want to guarantee that all students receive an excellent education, Americans for the Arts has just joined the leadership team of the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS), an alliance charged with revising the national voluntary learning standards for dance, music, theatre, visual arts and media arts for grades preK-12.
When the standards were drafted in 1994, Americans for the Arts helped lead the initial advocacy effort in all 50 states to adopt them. We will take up that banner again with NCCAS leadership, this time activating our State Arts Action Network—which consists of arts education leaders in all 50 states—to drive state-level advocacy efforts to endorse, adopt and adapt the 2014 National Core Arts Standards as the recognized model of quality arts education throughout the United States.
We believe that revising the national standards for arts education is an important component of ensuring high-quality education. It is also part of the “trifecta of accountability”—that is, standards, student assessment and teacher evaluation. These might not sound like exciting topics, but in this age of education accountability, arts subjects—just like all subjects—need to be able to demonstrate how effectively students are learning and how successfully teachers are instructing.
You can read more about ways that this trifecta of education accountability impacts arts classes during a week-long blog salon that Americans for the Arts is hosting this week. Fifteen– 20 leaders from around the country will be discussing standards, assessment and evaluation, as part of our ongoing efforts to increase the access to high-quality arts education for all students. Tune into ARTSblog to read more about how teachers in courses such as painting, band, drama and dance develop rigorous courses and standards-based curriculum for their students, assess their students’ growth and are evaluated on their own effectiveness as teachers.
Today marks the beginning of National Arts in Education Week. In honor of this event, I hope that you’ll not only read our blog salon, but that you’ll also be inspired to take an action this week to support keeping the arts as an integral part of all students’ education. You could speak to a school leader about the benefits of arts education; you could volunteer your time, resources, and skills to a neighborhood school; or you could ask your congressperson to keep the arts listed as a core subject during the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
In addition, you can read two new publications that Americans for the Arts recently released: The Arts Education Field Guide and The Arts Education Navigator Series. Both are designed to empower educators, students and advocates with the knowledge, statistics and case-making techniques needed to effectively communicate with decision-makers about the importance of arts education.
It takes many players and teamwork to ensure that all those students on all those school busses across America receive a well-rounded education that includes the arts. I hope you’ll take time this week to add your voice to this important conversation as we work together to keep the arts in public schools.