Despite budget cuts, increased digitization, and the time commitment required for high-stakes standardized tests, the arts have retained their place in American education. Currently, 27 states identify the arts as a core academic subject, and another 49 states plus the District of Columbia have adopted elementary and secondary standards for the arts.
In 2014, the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards updated its instructional guidelines for dance, music, theater, and visual arts. The standards also apply to instructors of animation, film, gaming, and computer design. The standards maintain that art promotes critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and problem-solving; they work to develop, refine, and actualize students’ ideas through various mediums.
“We see a generally strong public-policy consensus across states that the arts are an important curricular area that contributes to a quality K-12 education,” says Scott Jones, senior associate of research and policy for the Arts Education Partnership, which just released a report detailing the state of arts education in the United States.
Interestingly, as noted by Alison DeNisco of District Administration, students in schools with robust art programs outperform their peers at art-deficient schools. Attendance and engagement also increase in students in art-rich academic environments.
Some schools are adopting strategies to increase students’ exposure to and engagement with the arts.
In Seattle, students of the Sedro-Wolley School District are extending their school day for students who wish to study the arts. According to Kera Wanielista of The Seattle Times, the district has added an extra half-hour to the elementary school day to cover the arts. Kindergarteners through fifth-graders will spend two days a week after school in art classes, two days in music classes, and one day in a class focused on technology. “We now what the research says around music and art,” says Superintendent Phil Brockman. “It builds brain power.”
Similarly, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, a panel organized by Mosaic Art Inc., a local nonprofit arts agency, has been developing a framework for an Arts Education Program with the goal of ensuring that students from kindergarten through high school experience and learn about the arts.
Tentatively, the plan will help schools fund resident artists, field trips, and other events. Additionally, the group wants to train art teachers and artists who want to teach the arts but lack the necessary skills to do so. Patti Zarling of The Green Bay Press-Gazette writes that organizers say assistance is crucial because school districts are considering slashing their art budget to save money.
“People have seen cuts to education, especially arts programs,” says Tina Quigley, executive director for Mosaic Art. “In Wisconsin, statutes requiring classes in music and visual arts taught by a certified art teacher end after middle school. And there’s no dance or theater requirements.”
Iowa is the only state currently without arts standards. Thus, even in the face of challenges, the arts continue to have a presence in school curricula across the country. But it will take the concerted efforts of policymakers, educators, and communities to ensure their survival for future generations of students.