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State of the States: Arts as education

Standards emphasize developing artistic ideas, refining them, and following projects to completion
27 states identify the arts as a core academic subject and 49 states have adopted elementary and secondary standards for the arts. (Click to enlarge)
27 states identify the arts as a core academic subject and 49 states have adopted elementary and secondary standards for the arts. (Click to enlarge)

The arts survive in American education, despite pressures placed on school leaders to focus on high-stakes tests in math and English.

As of March, 27 states identify the arts as a core academic subject. And 49 states and the District of Columbia have adopted elementary and secondary standards for the arts, according to the “State of the States: 2016 Arts Education State Policy Summary” report from the Arts Education Partnership, a policy center within the Education Commission of the States.

“We see a generally strong public-policy consensus across states that the arts are an important curricular area that contribute to a quality K12 education,” says Scott Jones, senior associate ofresearch and policy for the Arts Education Partnership.

Iowa is the only state without arts standards. The standards, updated in 2014 by the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards, include instructional guidelines for dance, music, theater and visual arts. They also add media arts such as animation, film, gaming and computer design.

The standards emphasize developing artistic ideas, refining them, and following projects to completion. Arts teach critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and problem-solving, Jones says.

Students in schools with arts-rich learning environments outperform their peers in arts-deficient schools, according to 2011 Arts Education Partnership research. Attendance and engagement also increase when schools incorporate lessons teaching skills of an art and non-art subject in tandem.

Administrators, particularly principals, can bring the arts into daily instruction with various low-cost strategies, Jones says, including the following:

  • Establish a schoolwide commitment to arts learning by including the arts in school mission statements and improvement plans.
  • Ask parents to volunteer and raise funds.
  • Ensure the arts have a specific line item in the budget, and tap Title I and Title II funds.
  • Repurpose classroom spaces and use after-school time to incorporate the arts.
  • Provide arts-based professional development for teachers. In some schools, arts teachers serve as leads in providing or coordinating PD for classroom teachers to integrate arts into all subjects. In others, PD comes from the district or an arts or cultural organization.
  • Tap members of the local arts community to help build curriculum and to offer workshops.