The Implementation of National Standards in the Arts for American K-12 Education

August 31, 1993

The 1989 National Governors' Conference on Educational Reform, in calling for more rigor and higher standards for student learning, established six major goals for American education. Arts educators were incensed that these goals did not include the arts as areas of basic study for young people in the United States. The effect was an unprecedented coalescence of the arts education and artistic communities. When Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in March 1992 proposed the development of "world class" standards for various discipline groupings, the arts education community was prepared. A Consortium of National Arts Education Associations, through the Music Teachers National Conference, was awarded a grant in June 1992 to develop national arts standards. Additional funding was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Through the national professional educators' organizations, each of the arts disciplines developed standards under common categories: "Performing and Creating," "Perceiving and Analyzing," and "Understanding Historical and Cultural Contexts." The following comments were prepared for a session on "Implementation of the Standards" at a National Symposium on Standards in the Arts held at the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C., in March 1993. The purpose of these comments was to address how to implement such national standards. It is obvious that implementation is neither an artistic nor an intellectual problem, but a political issue. The task of developing a national set of standards and bringing the various constituencies to consensus is in itself an enormous challenge; the tasks of promulgating the standards and getting them accepted and implemented will be even more challenging.1

The mention of standards first brings to mind the issue of measurement. I hope that the standards developed for the arts in American schools will not be constricted by ease of direct measurement some of the most important values in the arts are not easily measured. One of the problems of formal education is that whatever can be measured easily or efficiently is measured, and that which is measured (and quantified) takes on a higher level of importance in the minds of everyone. Some important subject matter and attitudes that are elusive and difficult to measure "lose out" because their measurement is not easily quantified and reported. That is especially true in the arts. We should be aware of that potential pitfall and make others aware of it as we try to implement national standards for education in the arts.

The issue of the acceptance of standards involves not only the acceptance of these standards, however they finally evolve, but the acceptance of the concept of national standards in general. States and local school districts tend to resist such notions, even when compliance is voluntary. People want to set their own agendas and want to decide at the local level what is important in their children's education. The movement to decentralize control in schooling is sweeping this country. The promulgation of national standards for K-12 education in the mid-1990s is, for the most part, "going against the grain."

If national standards in the arts are to be implemented, it seems obvious that the standards must be accepted by all of the following groups: arts-teaching professionals; decision-makers (school administrators, school boards, legislators, state departments of education); and the public, especially parents. Parents and the public will naturally have great influence on the decision-makers. The question is: Will parents agree on standards in the arts for all children? (What if Johnny or Suzy brings home a C in music class?) Standards imply a certain rigor, not just fun and games, and I'm not sure that the American public is ready to accept the notion of rigor in the arts in schools.

For all, the standards must be simple and clearly understood -- they must emphasize function over method, content over process. Although an American Kodály or Orff method may appeal to some, we are much too culturally diverse to accept or benefit from a "national method" in any of the arts.

The reality is that time will not be afforded in the schools for every child to achieve standards in every art. Artists and arts educators must face the possibility that we may need to offer a choice to schools or school districts a choice between a comprehensive standard that implies minimal achievement in the arts or a higher standard in one art for individual children.

Tangible resources will be needed if national arts standards are to be implemented. Funding for the materials and equipment will be required because the use of technology may be one of the keys to success. Many schools will need computers, other electronic paraphernalia, and access to networking in order to participate; all schools will need ideas for the creative and effective use of technology. Software development will be extremely important. If technology is to help children acquire basic skills more efficiently, we will need help from publishers and manufacturers their participation will be critical to the implementation of standards because they can and will disseminate information to teachers and schools. They may gain something, but the schools and we in the arts-teaching profession have more to gain if publishers and manufacturers are successful.

Also, funding will be needed for publicity and promotion, and for the development of strategies and materials for accomplishing high visibility for the project. That will most likely come from a combination of professional organizations and publishers/manufacturers. (Probably, the government will not maintain a consistent approach long enough to be effective at that.) Professional organizations, such as The College Music Society, Music Educators National Conference, and their counterparts in the other arts disciplines, will be critical to effective promotion they can reach the teaching profession and, through the teachers, they can reach the parents and decision-makers. Confidence and belief in such a project must necessarily come from inside.

Networking -- not the electronic kind, but coalitions of arts-presenting groups (symphony orchestras; opera, dance, and theater companies; museums; etc.), arts advocacy groups (state and local arts councils included), and the arts education community -- will be extremely important. Educators cannot do this alone! Teachers do not have the political clout with decision-makers to effect the policies, to demand the rigor, to get the arts included in standardized testing procedures, etc., that will be required. We have a model of such networking in Florida called Arts for Complete Education (ACE). It works, because all of those groups are working together, and they're beginning to make a difference. When the president of a local symphony board speaks to the community's board of education about music in the schools, it is quite a different matter than when the school orchestra conductor speaks.

Colleges and universities and arts faculties can make a huge difference. We prepare the teachers, and each year we also educate thousands of young people who will be symphony and museum board presidents in the future. We should be the leaders in the development of software for the creative use of technology; we should be testing and espousing ideas for becoming more efficient and productive in educating young people about the arts. We should convince manufacturers and publishers that colleges and universities are places where a few dollars well placed could generate a great deal of activity toward the development and implementation of national standards.

How can we convince teachers, decision-makers, and the public (including parents) of the value of setting and monitoring national standards for achievement in the arts? For teachers, I believe that we need a reward system, and I believe that recognition -- appealing to pride in the profession, pride in achievement -- is wiser and more manageable than monetary reward. We need to develop in teachers a sense of unity of purpose through national standards -- a spirit of service and cooperation, rather than a climate of monitoring and regulation. To the extent that we can operate from a platform of positive incentives as opposed to regulation, the national standards initiative can be successful with teachers.

For decision-makers and the public, there will be some appeal to national standards in the arts because of a national standards movement in schools generally. (If that movement fails, nothing will happen in the arts either.) For many persons, the implementation of national standards is a matter of common sense. It is a practical way to approach the perceived problem with schooling in America, and the arts can ride on that coat tail. Promoting education in the arts as a means of preparing young people for creative and healthy use of leisure time in the future is a worthy argument. While it won't sell with some, to me it seems essential that we continue to promote the arts as intellectual activity that requires skills developed while we are young.

The difficult arguments with decision-makers and the public will be that the arts are as important as other disciplines, that they deserve time and attention in the schools equal to other subject matter, and that skill is an essential component of real intellect when dealing with the arts. For arts educators, the difficult argument will be whether it is possible to achieve a reasonable set of national standards in most schools today. This is a particularly difficult argument because achievement is practically impossible in the time presently allowed during the school day. We have a "chicken- and-egg" situation: we can't get the necessary time until we state the expectations (standards), and we can't achieve the standards without the time being made available in the school day. Arts teachers will want the standards to include "input" measures, but we cannot effectively convince others about input or delivery standards (e.g., number of minutes required per week) until we convince everyone about outcomes standards (what we expect students to know and be able to do).

In conclusion, higher education can and will have a major impact on how national arts standards are interpreted, accepted, and implemented. Some steps that colleges and universities should take to be key players in this effort are:

  • Universally accept the adopted national standards and skills as basics for all teachers-in-training.

  • Ensure that all entrants to all college music or arts major curricula meet the standards.

  • Stimulate research efforts in teaching/learning to determine more efficient ways to acquire the skills and knowledge required by the standards.

  • Develop mechanisms and forums through which individual researchers can team with others on research projects dealing with the standards.

  • Encourage policy studies and forums that will enhance understanding and awareness of the standards and the values and logistics necessary for their implementation.

  • Provide a forum for bringing together the various arts communities -- presenters, advocates, and educators -- for the promulgation of the standards. (Higher education may be the best convener of these groups because colleges and universities typically interact with all of them.)

  • Stimulate development of text materials (for college methods courses and for use in the schools), methodological approaches, use of technology, etc., for teaching the standards.

  • Encourage the development of classroom materials and approaches using the musical materials of various cultures (to encourage the acceptance of the standards by various ethnic/ cultural groups and at the same time encourage greater diversity of materials).

  • Encourage the development of software for assisting the learning of basic skills and knowledge according to the standards.

  • Encourage (and, if possible, find funding for) workshops for teachers-in-service on the standards, both on campus and in schools.

  • Develop programs within higher education curricula that encourage (even require) those who aspire to teach the arts to serve as tutors for first-year students, elementary education majors, students in introductory arts classes, etc., emphasizing the national standards.

Not every institution of higher education can or would be expected to take all of these steps, but if every institution would adopt the first two and then carry out one or two more, at least the next generation of teachers would be made aware. If the idea of national standards works, it will be a long-term project. And, for it to work, the involvement of colleges and universities and their arts faculties is essential.

1. Background information for this introduction was provided by June Hinckley, Curriculum Consultant for the Florida Department of Education.

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