26 May 2010

Common Core Arts Standards

How are the new initiatives in standards-based reform, particularly the Common Core Standards, affecting the arts and other parts of the education sector? Is this national standardization the right approach towards curriculum and assessment for arts education?

The release of the
Common Core Standards for Math and English by the National Governors’ Association and the Council for Chief State School Officers as a part of the blueprint for reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) has impacted the way that local, state, and national governing boards and other organizations consider the question of how to address the problems of our education system.

blog posted on 25 May by Lynn Tuttle, director of arts education for the Arizona Department of Education, summarizes the findings of a meeting held on 11-12 May between the State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education (SEADAE) and key arts education stakeholders. The group assembled voted overwhelmingly to pursue assembling a new set of national arts education standards called the Common Core State Standards for the Arts.

Since 1994, teachers across the arts sector have followed the voluntary
National Arts Standards, a document formulated by the Consortium of National Arts Education Associations. The document outlines recommendations for fundamental arts learning objectives and outcomes expected of every student in the US K-12 education system. However, the current National Arts Standards were established as guidelines to “provide a vision of competence and educational effectiveness,” but allow for freedom in implementation at the state and local levels.

According to Ms. Tuttle, the next steps for the stakeholders involved in the current meetings is to survey teachers, teaching arts, local arts organizations, and other institutions to learn their concerns and priorities.

As a writer who supports the arts and education sectors, I find the current drive towards a national-based set of educational standards an interesting facet of the education reform movement.

From an assessment standpoint, in spite of the drive for personalization in large-scale state assessments, which should in part produce comprehensive tests tailored to each state, educators, administrators, and other parties face problems of setting their own standards based on the national norms as well as enforcing their own accountability system.

The issue at stake with our current education system boils down to the degrees of conformity with or variance in implementation of the rules set in place by No Child Left Behind. In this way, having better standards, or at least establishing a common grounding by which to gauge student learning and expected student learning outcomes, seems a solid way to move discussion forward and to give educators and other stakeholders the tools and vocabulary they need to begin to tackle problems of failing schools, high dropout rates, teacher retention, and college/career readiness.

Yet, for the arts, I wonder how much debate this will create in terms of the necessity of flexibility in program design and evaluation for a host of reasons, including artistic freedom, demographics, and funding. It is my hope that the renewed emphasis on college/career readiness help stimulate funding for arts programs in schools to help us prepare the next generation of performing artists, musicians, fashion designers, arts educators, administrators, and policymakers.

In all, I am encouraged by this attention to arts education and look forward to seeing how these standards come together.

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