Doubling Down on What Works
During the Friday, March 29 meeting of the National Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) revealed their new four-point plan for arts education, under the leadership of new Director of Education Ayanna Hudson.
Ayanna is my former boss from when we both lived in Los Angeles and worked on the Arts for All initiative at the LA County Arts Commission. So I wasn’t surprised by this new direction for arts education at the NEA—it is great to see Ayanna have a national platform to spread her expertise on issues like collective impact.
At the beginning of the council meeting, Ayanna stated that the NEA wants to weave arts education into the very fabric of every school so that ALL students have access to the arts. And given the scope of the NEA, they want to focus on the following four key areas to achieve this:
Point 1 - Leverage Investments: The NEA is looking to invest its grant dollars for arts education in a way that can really spur change in the field. Their new investment strategy is what former NEA chairman Rocco Landesman called "doubling down on what works."
Ayanna mentioned that new guidelines for arts education grants are currently under review and they MIGHT start allowing larger, multiyear grants to models based on best practice and collaboration. She mentioned several examples, such as Arts for All, A+ Schools, Ingenuity Incorporated, etc.
Point 2 - Drive National Data & Research Agenda: The NEA has begun a partnership with the National Center for Educational Statistics to think about how to collect standardized data about resources, frequency, content, and quality in arts education across all 50 states.
The NEA wants to help states collect and analyze this information so that state departments of education can better direct their resources to ensure that all students are receiving instruction in the arts. The NEA also hopes that changing the system for data collection for the arts will help lead the way for data collection in other non-tested subjects, such as social studies and science.
On the research front, the NEA has included experimental-designed research projects in their five-year plan, in order to take arts education research to the next level. They will design studies that have randomized control groups in order to produce better quality research on arts education. If you’ve been following what the NEA’s research department has been doing recently under the direction of Sunil Iyengar, then you’ll be excited by the possibilities that are in store for arts education research.
Point 3 - Collaborate for Collective Impact: The NEA is working with organizations like Americans for the Arts and many other national arts organizations to develop a coordinated national strategy for arts education. What will this look like? Who knows, but that is the beauty of a wicked problem like education reform—the causes are complex and ambiguous, the work is messy, and you need multiple partners to provide their organizational resources, expertise, and staff time. If collective impact models like Arts for All are tackling wicked problems at the local level, it will interesting to see what national organizations could do together at the grasstops level.
Point 4 - Lead the Field: The NEA wants to provide the field with arts education resources, information, publications, and professional development. They are working on a report from their four-year investment in the Education Leadership Institute, which should offer the field some great information on what states who participated in the program learned.
They also have a lineup of webinars slated for this year, and the first one featured John Kania speaking about collective impact. I highly recommend watching this webinar, and then reading John’s white paper on collective impact. One of my favorite catch-phrases now is from John Kania: “The biggest problem facing our field is isolated impact.”
When you put these four points together, it seems that the NEA has crafted a multi-pronged strategy to affect change in the field of arts education. It’s great to see the NEA stepping up its role as a leader in the field, and not just as a granting body. However, as a federal agency, there is only so much that the NEA can do, and I think that focusing on these four key areas will really play to the NEA’s strengths.
Now that they’ve laid out this framework, it will be interesting to see how it plays out in terms of their programs, activities, grants, etc. and how this new framework will help achieve their vision that “every student is engaged and empowered through an excellent arts education.”