Arts Education Comments


Comments from the Arts Education Community in Response to the Department of Education's Strategic Plan 2002-2007
February 21, 2002

A comprehensive strategy for a complete education includes high-quality, sequential arts instruction in the classroom, as well as participation and learning in community-based arts programs. Public schools have the responsibility for providing a complete education for all children. A child's education is not complete unless it includes the arts. Any child who does not get an education in the arts is a child left behind.

Students face challenges in knowing how to communicate successfully and function in today's global, multimedia information age. To succeed in today's economy of ideas, students must achieve competency in using words, images, sounds, and motion to communicate. They must be arts literate. Arts literacy is the skills and knowledge students develop learning to create, perform, and respond to works of art. Active participation and learning in the arts also improves overall academic achievement, socialization, and preparation for college and the workforce.

The Department of Education's Strategic Plan should support arts education.

The No Child Left Behind Act recognizes the arts as a core curriculum subject. Nationwide, schools and communities are choosing to deliver high-quality learning opportunities in, through, and about the arts for children, with support from the U.S. Department of Education. The federal commitment to arts education must be maintained and strengthened.

While supporting the Department’s focus on basic literacy and numeracy, we believe that the draft Strategic Plan risks sending the message that other subjects, including the arts, are simply not important enough to merit attention at the federal level. With the radical revision and strengthening of the federal role, such a message can have a negative effect in America’s schools and classrooms. It risks giving the message that the federal government has no interest in the fact that 48 states have developed standards in the arts; indeed it risks challenging the effort made in those states to establish meaningful standards for improving student achievement.

We do commend the Strategic Plan for encouraging strong preparation in arts and sciences departments to ensure sound content knowledge for teachers, and we hope that arts teachers will participate in programs sponsored and supported by the Department. Schools must equip teachers in every classroom with the tools to lead students successfully to meet the high state-designed standards in the arts. In addition to ensuring arts literacy for their students, teachers can be taught how to use the unique nature of arts learning to teach the other core subjects.

As that is the only reference to the arts in the Strategic Plan, we recommend several simple additions.

First, in keeping with its own strategic priority, the Department should encourage schools to use the arts to help children develop literacy skills in reading, writing, speaking, listening and viewing. The 1998 report, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, highlights the importance of games, songs, and poems that emphasize rhyming or manipulation of sounds in developing language skills. Arts programs in the schools are increasingly demonstrating the relationship between learning, literacy, and achievement. We fully endorse the Department’s effort to build a solid body of research in this area, although for reasons mentioned below, we do not believe that such research should always be the sole justification for Department support of the arts.

Second, while the Department did not request funding for its arts education programs, Congress nevertheless voted to support them and shows no sign of withdrawing that support. We ask, therefore, that the Strategic Plan include a specific commitment to manage and foster the arts education programs in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. While relatively small, they are capable of having a positive systemic impact. For example, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts education program supports professional development for teachers, national and community outreach to all 50 states. In addition, the Center provides resources to a variety of state and local partners to support efforts to implement state standards and develop local curriculum and assessments in theater, dance, music, and visual arts.

Third, we request that the Plan include a commitment to continue support for the Arts Education Partnership, which has been tremendously effective at strengthening states’ capacity for improving the delivery of arts education.

Fourth, we request that the Department include arts information in the "other data sources" from which you will compose the proposed national education report. The USED-sponsored 1997 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in arts education, the most comprehensive study of student learning in the arts, provided a benchmark to measure future student progress. The study demonstrated that students receiving classroom arts instruction outperformed other students and that instruction increased all of their arts abilities, including the ability to create works of quality that communicated complex ideas. It further showed that the ability to respond to, create, and perform works of art can be taught and that student achievement in the arts can be assessed and measured.

Fifth, Goal Two, "Improve Student Achievement," should mention the power of the arts to motivate students to attain extraordinary levels of achievement. The arts are often spoken of merely in terms of their ability to improve "self-expression." We believe that it is at least equally important to speak of their power to instill the lessons of discipline, hard work, accuracy, and value. The arts are not " soft" and they are not easy; on the contrary, they can be some of the most difficult and demanding subjects that students will ever encounter. According to the 2000 report, Champions of Change, researchers found that the arts provided a reason, and sometimes the only reason, for students being engaged with school or other organizations. Dr. James Catterall of UCLA has found that students from poorer families who studied the arts improve their overall school performance more rapidly than all other students.

Sixth, Goal 3, "Develop Safe Schools and Strong Character," cites the teaching of traditional American history as one way to encourage citizen activism and participation in our democracy. We would like to see a similar reference to programs and partnerships that use the arts as a medium to teach skills that prevent drug abuse and violence. The arts provide young people important skills for constructive communication, including team-building; respecting alternative points of view; and appreciating and being aware of different cultures and traditions. The U.S. Department of Justice in a national YouthARTS study, published in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts and Americans for the Arts, found that after-school and summer arts programs—designed by the local arts councils in Portland, OR; San Antonio, TX; and Fulton County, GA—have a significant and measurable impact among youth at risk. These programs decreased the frequency of delinquent behavior, new court referrals and school truancy, as well as improved overall academic performance, communication skills, and the ability to complete work on tasks from start to finish.

Finally, we request that arts be included in those "topics of greatest relevance" for which the Department intends to sponsor, collect, and disseminate data. We have heard senior officials say that there is enough data on reading instruction. A significant body of research on arts learning has been developing and, just as with reading, is worthy of federal support to bring about complete production, collection, and dissemination.

At the same time, there is a danger in making scientific research the sole basis for every decision. By all means, measure the effects of the arts on literacy and math and science; measure learning in the arts themselves; but we respectfully ask that their effect on children's lives be included in the final balance.

American Arts Alliance
American Association of Museums
American Symphony Orchestra League
Americans for the Arts
Association of Art Museum Directors
Association of Performing Arts Presenters
MENC: The National Association for Music Education
National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
National Environmental Education and Training Foundation
OPERA America
Theatre Communications Group