Spotlight

Collecting Arts Education Data Under NCLB

by Narric W. Rome

Arts education boosters took delight when the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2002 listed the arts as one of the “core academic subjects” of public education. The federal law named 10 core subjects in all, a designation qualifying arts instruction for federal grants and other support.

Art educators were further heartened with the authorization of the Arts in Education program at the U.S. Department of Education, which provides competitive grants to school districts to study model arts education programs and professional development.

But more recent evidence has left us less optimistic. Despite the arts being named a core subject, NCLB requires schools to report student achievement test results for reading, mathematics and science. Because all students must meet state-determined standards in these subjects in the next six years, the instructional time for other subjects, such as the arts, has been in serious decline.

A 2007 report by the Center for Education Policy titled “Choices, Changes, and Challenges: Curriculum and Instruction in the NCLB Era” says about 62 percent of school districts increased the amount of time spent in elementary schools on English language arts and/or math, while 44 percent of districts cut time devoted to science, social studies, art and music and other subjects. For school districts with at least one school identified for improvement under NCLB, the average number of minutes per week devoted to art and music was the lowest of all subject areas studied — 97 minutes for arts and music compared to 568 minutes for reading.

The CEP report, for the first time, also included a list of recommendations. Among them was this: “[E]ncourage states to give adequate emphasis to art and music.”

Little federal research exists on arts education. In 1999, the Fast Response Survey System measured the condition and status of arts education on a national scale. The survey, administered to elementary and secondary school principals and elementary school arts specialists and classroom teachers, is the only federal study on the state of K-12 arts education. There has been no study published since.

A second federal study measuring students’ skills in the arts is the National Assessment of Educational Progress initiated in 1997. It is scheduled to be fielded again this year.

As a core academic subject, the arts education community will need to find a way to gather data as one of our main advocacy objectives.

Enabling Data
In 2006, representatives from a number of national arts education organizations, calling themselves the Arts Education Working Group, crafted a unified statement on arts education and NCLB. This paper, titled “Arts Education: Creating Student Success in School, Work, and Life (available at http://americansforthearts.org/artseducation/nclb), is an advocacy tool for communicating the benefits of arts education to policymakers at all levels. It will be especially useful as federal lawmakers begin the process of reauthorizing NCLB.

More recently, the working group released four specific legislative recommendations for the reauthorization of NCLB. This coalition continues to work with House and Senate committee staff to incorporate these recommendations into the reauthorization drafts. One calls for amending the state report card requirement in NCLB so states collect and report annually comprehensive information about the status and condition of all core academic subjects. Such information should include student enrollment, pupil/teacher ratios, amount of instructional time, budget allocation, teacher subject certification, full-time equivalent teacher load or other measures chosen by the state. In many cases, the information sought already is collected in school districts and states.

The local and state data on the status and quality of arts education would enable school administrators to quickly identify areas in which arts education resources need to be strengthened. The Arts Education Partnership (http://aep-arts.org) has published “Anecdote to Evidence,” a policy brief that analyzes the work of five states (Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington) and their successful efforts in conducting comprehensive arts education surveys in recent years.

Building Support
The unified statement mentioned above was signed by 63 national education and arts education organizations. These supporters and many others see the value of including the arts as central to any educational mission and as a way to strengthen student achievement in other areas as well.

Whether it’s an entry point for early childhood education, developing both sides of the brain in grade school or increasing skills taught in high school for a 21st century workplace, the arts provide knowledge and creative abilities that can foster achievement and success in all areas of life.

Finally, one of the ongoing challenges is locating and nourishing the support of local business and community leaders about workforce development and its relation to training in the arts. Support for arts education is a key part of any balanced approach to providing recent high school graduates who are ready to work with a complete skill set.

While this message resonates locally, it becomes lost in translation in Washington where support for math, reading and science are seen as the only subjects worthy of significant federal support. Arts education advocates need help in communicating to members of Congress that arts education, a core academic subject, deserves more support.

Narric Rome is director of federal affairs for Americans for the Arts in Washington, D.C. E-mail: nrome@artsusa.org.