What makes for quality arts education?
By Francene Kirk
Quality is difficult to define, but most of us “know it when we see it.” However, sometimes a quality arts education is difficult to recognize. If children are receiving a grade for music or art, or if they are participating in a holiday concert, most people assume they are getting a quality arts education. How can you be sure that your child is receiving the same quality education in the arts that he or she is receiving in other subject areas? The following six components can serve as a guideline.
A quality arts education should:
1. Be based on standards. As a result of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, there are national standards for arts education. The West Virginia Department of Education has developed state standards for the arts that are aligned with the National Standards for Arts Education. They outline what students should know and be able to do in dance, music, theater and visual art at each grade level. These standards are currently undergoing revision and can be found at the West Virginia Department of Education website (HtmlResAnchor http://wvde.state.wv.us).
2. Be sequential. All arts experiences contribute to a student’s education. But in order for students to really learn about the arts, the instruction must take place in an organized manner over a period of time such as a year or semester. All too often, students’ only exposure to the arts is through random personal experiences. For example, students may take a yearly field trip to a museum. This is an arts experience, not an arts education. In receiving an arts education, students acquire a body of knowledge related to the discipline such as learning to create two- or three-point linear perspective drawings after the study of Renaissance art. Both are components of learning about the arts. Each can complement the other, but neither is a substitute for the other.
The WV content standards are written in a sequential manner. However, this does not insure sequential instruction. State policies are written to give county school systems flexibility in scheduling staff and time. Currently, there is no way to monitor how much instruction students are receiving in art and music at the elementary and middle school levels. West Virginia school policies related to arts education require only the following:
and music must be taught in grades K-4 either as separate subjects
or as integrated programs, but are not required to be taught
3. Be taught by a school arts specialist. A teacher’s knowledge of the content is the most significant factor influencing students’ achievement. A certified arts specialist often has over 30 college hours in arts content such as music or visual art while a general classroom teacher may have fewer than six.
Not all elementary students in West Virginia receive arts instruction from specialists. In grades K-4, the general classroom teacher may teach music and art; therefore, art and music specialists are not required. Increasing numbers of general classroom teachers are participating in professional development activities to enhance their ability to make the arts part of daily instruction. In the best of all possible worlds, arts specialists, general classroom teachers and professional artists work together to connect the arts to other educational experiences and devote adequate time each day to arts instruction.
4. Include community artists and arts organizations. Community-based artists and arts organizations such as museums, theaters, dance companies, symphonies and arts councils spend much of their resources in educational outreach. Arts organizations bring the arts to life in schools by sponsoring artists-in-residence, presenting live performances, providing professional development opportunities for teachers and serving as resources to arts educators and students.
West Virginia is home to many arts organizations. The West Virginia Commission on the Arts oversees grant programs that support arts education projects in cooperation with artists and arts organizations. Information on individual artists, arts organizations and grant programs may be obtained from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts/Division of Culture and History. The website address is HtmlResAnchor www.wvculture.org.
5. Include a clear assessment component. Assessment involves measuring students’ understanding and skills. The arts, like literature, mathematics and social sciences, are content disciplines worthy of study within the curriculum. Gone are the days when mere participation in an arts course warranted an “A” on a report card. For arts education to be meaningful, students’ knowledge and skills must be evaluated based on their ability to create, perform, analyze and evaluate works of art. Currently there is no statewide assessment of the arts in place; therefore, assessment is left to the individual teachers.
6. Connect the arts with other subject areas in the schools. The arts are an integral part of all disciplines. For example, while an architect uses math to design a building, he or she also considers line and form, concepts from the visual art discipline. There is also evidence to suggest that when the arts are connected in meaningful ways with other subject areas such as reading, writing, math, science, and history, students comprehend and retain more about the other subjects.
Local school systems approach “arts-across-the curriculum” differently. For example, during the 1999-2000, 2000-2001 school years, RESA IV (Regional Education Service Agency) in Summersville, Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg and Greenbrier County Schools teamed up to provide teachers in a seven county region with “Teach SmART.” This professional development institute focused on integrating the arts into other content areas such as reading and social studies. “Teach SmART” was created not only for arts teachers but also for elementary teachers who collaborate with arts teachers or who may be responsible for teaching the arts in their general classrooms. This type of professional development opportunity is essential if general classroom teachers are to make connections between the arts and other subject areas.
Arts Action! is a grassroots arts education project sponsored by The Arts Advocacy West Virginia Foundation and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the West Virginia Commission on the Arts/Division of Culture and History, the Office of the Secretary for Arts and Education for West Virginia and The Benedum Foundation.
Arts Action! welcomes new advocate Victoria Humphrey. If you want Victoria to speak to your club or organization about how to improve arts education in your community, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Francene Kirk is an assistant professor in the School of Fine Arts at Fairmont State College. You can reach her at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.