The push for standards is seeping into arts education

Advocates for arts education are in the midst of a counter offensive. Arguing that post-recession budget cuts and Bush-era testing policies have prompted schools to cut art (in order to spend more time prepping kids for math and reading tests), they’ve come up with an idea: convince states to adopt new art standards –à la Common Core — to get schools to focus on art again.

Last year, a coalition of art groups unveiled their new National “Core Arts Standards,” for the teaching of music, visual art, dance and drama. There’s a new emphasis on making cross-disciplinary connections with, say, math or  literature — not just learning the notes on your flute. They’ve even added a fifth art category: media arts.

25 States and D.C. required course credits in the arts for high school graduation in 2014

(Use arrows to navigate. Interactive map created by Jill Barshay of The Hechinger Report. Source data: Arts Education Policies by State 2014, NCES and AEP)

Already, three Midwestern states — Arkansas, Kansas and Nebraska — have adopted or are moving to adopt versions of the new standards.  And 10 more states are considering it, according to Narric Rome, Vice President of Government Affairs & Arts Education at Americans for the Arts, a Washington, D.C. advocacy group.

This article also appeared here.

This article also appeared here.

“We’re spending our time on the state level,” said Rome, who says he used to spend more of his time lobbying Capitol Hill and federal agencies. “That’s where we see action for arts education.”

This state activity is catching the attention of the data geeks over at the National Center for Education Statistics, which released a table of Art Education Policies by State in December 2014 using data collected by the Arts Education Partnership (AEP). The table makes clear that all 50 states already have art standards. Some of them are believed to be 20 years old. But implementation varies considerably. Some states require schools to offer art. Others don’t. In many cases, only a small percentage of students take art classes.

One category that lobbyists like Rome want to boost is the number of states that require students to take at least some sort of art class to graduate from high school. Just 25 and the District of Columbia do now. “We make the argument that a complete education isn’t complete without the arts. One way to have that is to have a graduation requirement,” said Rome.

Rome admits that high school requirements are an imperfect way to promote arts education. California, for example, doesn’t require art for graduation. And yet, Rome says that California has “very good” art education programs in many of its public schools.

Testing: 17 States required assessment of student learning in the arts in 2014

(Use arrows to navigate. Interactive map created by Jill Barshay of The Hechinger Report. Source data: Arts Education Policies by State 2014, NCES and AEP)

The trick for arts advocates is to figure which policy levers to pull that will actually increase funding for art classes and allow more children to take them. On one hand, they could convince state policy makers to test art, which 17 states already do, just like they test math or reading. What gets tested gets taught, after all. And testing can prove to critics that art is a serious subject and not just about gluing popsicle sticks or appreciating music.

But the arts are wary of testing, too. Not only has art been a victim of math and reading tests, but also no one wants to see misguided tests that would ask students to, say, memorize all the impressionist painters.

“That’s the narrow eye of the needle we’ve been trying to get through,” explained Rome. “We don’t want to be part of more testing. But we do think that assessment in the arts is a validation of arts education and why these  new standards are important.”

But ultimately, it’s unclear if new standards will mean more art for more students.

What the state data don’t reveal is how many and which students are currently receiving art instruction and how much of it they’re getting.  Every decade the federal government issues a large report on arts education throughout the country, Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, and the most recent data from 2010 confirms that low-income schools don’t offer music and visual art as much as high-income schools do. But it’s difficult to tell how much art a typical student is getting. Just because a school offers art doesn’t mean that all students have access to it or are taking advantage of it.


POSTED BY Jill Barshay ON January 12, 2015

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Marilyn S. Ruben

I have been an Arts Advocate and Practitioner since I was a young child. We only had Art Class in Elementary School once per week, but I used to make projects on the dining room table on the weekends, using patterns from various Craft Books and the children’s weekly column in our local newspaper. I also spent every summer at Summer Camp away from my home, from age 7 to 19, and there I learned about the Fabric Arts, as well as Drawing and Painting. My parents taught me a lot about music, and the camp I attended the longest (5 years) sponsored weekend Music Nights and Broadway Musicals and Dance Programs, performed by the Campers and Counselors. I was a camper for several years, a Counselor Aide, A Counselor in Training, and a Full Counselor. Many Fabric Crafts and Drawing Projects and Paintings I have done in my adulthood reflect back to my days at Summer Camp. After 30 years of Teaching and Youthwork, during which I used Art as a technique to “connect” to my students and/or clients, I returned to a local Community College to add to my college credits in Art. I have now completed 42 hours of Art classes, and will seek my Bachelor’s Degree in Art History at a University where I plan to transfer very soon in the near future.

I am all for students taking Arts classes in High School. I never had that chance, because I was put on a “Track” for Journalism and Creative Writing. I always regretted not taking High School Art Classes, because the College Art Students seemed so more advanced than I was — they had a “Head Start in Art” in high school and I did not.

My 2 daughters both took Art in High School and Majored in Art in College. One never used it in her career of Sales, but she is a Tutor in Elementary School and an avid Photographer. (Her major was Photography.) Her Sister took a double major in Arts Management and Fine Art, and has found work as a Fundraiser for various Non-Profits. I am very disappointed that my husband’s investment in 5 years of college for each of my daughters did not result in their finding work in the field of Art, and they had to earn a living doing something else. This is what drove me back to school, to see if I could “turn the tide” on public opinion about “Art as a Career.”

I have consulted many Universities about their programs for Art Education, and I honestly feel that they need more depth! A good Art Teacher needs a solid foundation in techniques of Art, Art History, etc. I am disappointed in the fact that many of the Art Education Curricula I have found throughout these various Universities produce Art teachers which seem to produce Art Classwork which is repetitive and shows no individual personality in the students’ work. When I see the Student Art Exhibits at our Art Center each year, there are a tiny handful of teachers who learn to apply the teaching techniques of Art Education along with Art History and Art Techniques. I want to see the personality of each student shine through in their work. In our community, only a handful of Art Teachers do that and it shows in their Exhibits. This “handful” consists of outstanding teachers. Many others produce “Carbon Copy Artists” in their classes. That is very sad!

I do not want to see students “Tested” on Artwork to the extent that they come to hate their Art classes ! Art, Music, Drama are there to enrich their school years, NOT to add more memorizing and “parrot talk!” If they can learn basic terminology and maybe a little creative technique and some very basic Fine Art History or Biographies of a few outstanding Artists, maybe Advanced Credit in Fine Arts can be earned in High School and they can move into Advanced Fine Arts classes in college. It should be an enjoyable experience, not something to suffer through!

I have called the National Endowment for Arts for years, but I have never been able to capture the attention of the Commission on the Arts in my home State, Arizona. I think some of their standards of selection are extremely limited and my hope would be that someday, they learn to expand their vision as to what the Fine Arts represent.

In the meantime, I will continue trying to promote Fine Arts in young people. I spent the past 12 years with my Fine Arts Co-op, Sonrisa Designs, promoting the Artwork of young people, ages 3-37 and myself. Now that most of them have grown up and are on their own, I am devoting my energies to my own work and encouraging my Granddaughter, who at age 15 is taking Art Class as a High School Freshman. Long live the Arts!

Larry Ligocki

There is nothing wrong with enjoying art and learning all you can about art. I love listening to my daughter play Mozart on the piano!! However, asking communities to subsidize hobbies (fine arts programs) through tax-funded public education is absolutely foolish. Financially speaking it is a terrible investment with negative returns. It should absolutely be expected, as Marilyn Ruben noted in her post concerning her daughters, that almost all students graduating with fine arts degrees will have to subsidize their income with a career in some other field. With few exceptions, the “arts community” must be subsidized by foundations, individual donations, and other hand-outs. Therefore, it follows that public education funds supporting the fine arts are wasted if secondary schools are in fact attempting to prepare young people to become economically independent, productive citizens.

If an individual chooses to use their own money to advance their interest in art I applaud you and wish you the best – but PLEASE pay for your own hobbies. Fine arts programs should be extra-curricular activities within a publicly funded school system.

jean-marc lauret

thank you for the news about arts education in USA. I have just published a book in french which title is : L’art fait-il grandir l’enfant, Essai sur l’évaluation de l’éducation artistique et culturelle. (editions de l’Attribut).
I have been inspired by the researches in USA about the effect of arts education on the children. Thank you again
jean-marc lauret (France)

Olivia Smith

I think this is good, teaching of music, visual art, dance and drama. I, myself , appreciate music.

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