From Neolithic to Neo-Core Arts Standards: The Back-story to Writing the New Standards

Since the Neolithic Revolution, apprenticeships were the career pathway towards master artist status. In addition, one had to have a patron to provide access to the resources of their craft. Twelve thousand years later, we have codified the artistic learning experience into a matrix of what students should know and be able to do, through specific benchmarks known as standards.

The first National Standards for Arts Education were issued in 1994. A coalition of national arts and education organizations will issue a twenty-first century update of the standards in early 2014.

Kristy Callaway (Executive Director of the Arts Schools Network and member of arts education council at Americans for the Arts) interviews Jim Palmarini (Director of Educational Policy at Educational Theatre Association and member of the leadership team of the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards) about the process of updating the national arts education standards.

Kristy: Please set this up for me. What is the back-story of the writing teams? How were they selected and assembled?

Jim: We have five writing teams working to rewrite the national standards in the content areas of dance, media arts, music, theatre, and visual arts. In October, 2011, the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS) leadership issued an online application process. We had more than 360 applicants, most of who were highly qualified and experienced in one or more arts discipline. What we were seeking in each team was a balance of individuals who had expertise in teaching, standards and curriculum writing, assessment, and, of course, practical knowledge in their area of expertise. The leadership of NCCAS selected the team members. The College Board managed the selection of the media arts team.

The full five teams have met twice in person—most recently this past July—but most of their work has been done virtually in webinars, phone conferences, and email discussions. Writing grade-by-grade PreK-12 standards is intellectually challenging and complicated work, especially when you are working to both honor what is unique about each art form and trying to find common ground across the content areas. And nobody is getting paid—this is a voluntary effort by a dedicated cadre of individuals who truly believe in the value of standards for students and educators.

Kristy: How are the standards triangulated with instruction, assessment, and teacher evaluation?

Jim: I’m going to answer your question with a question of my own: How can you fairly evaluate either students or educators if you don’t have a baseline of instructional practice from which to measure? Standards provide educators a lens through which to see their teaching, and a framework for student assessment that can be linked to teacher evaluation. Therein is the triangulation. We in the coalition like to say that teachers ought to be able to envision themselves and their students in these new arts standards. If they don’t, then we haven’t done it right.

We are also working towards making sure that the standards are the right grain size—in other words, broad enough to clearly state what a student should know about a subject area at each grade level, but not so specific as to limit an educator’s ability to build a curriculum suitable to the needs of his or her students. At the end of the day, they ought to suggest student learning outcomes that are measureable. One of our goals is to dispel the myth that art learning is not assessable. Further, we want to make it clear that arts education is on the cutting edge of teaching the 21st century skills of creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.

Regarding teacher evaluation, we all know that arts teachers throughout the country are being evaluated based on student achievement in tested subject areas. No one really knows how widespread this practice is or what percentage of teachers’ evaluation is based on this data—while there are some places where this is spelled out state wide, much of this kind of decision making happens at the local education agency level. The ASCD-led assembly of subject area groups, College, Career, and Citizen Readiness Coalition, has been working on a teacher evaluation consensus statement and report language for inclusion in the S. 1094 bill that will hopefully become part of ESEA reauthorization. There are several recommendations included, keyed most importantly by this statement: “Teacher evaluation systems should be based on curricula that are taught under model national, state, and local standards.”

In the trifecta of education accountability—standards, assessments, and teacher evaluation—is the opportunity to articulate the rich and varied learning experiences in all the arts and their value to students’ well- rounded education. It’s why we’re building standards founded on clearly defined philosophical foundations and lifelong goals and asserting that arts literacy is just as important as numeracy and reading.

Kristy: How can the public be involved during the comment period?

Jim: We’ll be launching an online public comment period for the high school standards September 30 that will run until October 21, and a final public review of the full PreK-12 standards in January, 2014. The best way to keep apprised of the work and to learn how to participate is by visiting our website on a regular basis. The reviews will be conducted in the same way as our earlier public review of the PreK-8 standards were done, with an online training video that participants will be asked to watch prior to beginning their review of one or more content areas. We’ll also be conducting a “town hall” webinar later this month that will allow people to ask questions and raise concerns about important issues.

Here’s the most important thing I can say about public involvement in this project: NCCAS is fully committed to transparency and we have tried to communicate the philosophy, strategy, and progress during each phase through press releases, social media, and our member organizations. But we do need input if we are going to make these standards the very best they can be. And that input needs to come from the widest possible range of stakeholders: teachers and teaching artists, of course, as they are the end users, but also administrators, policy makers, parents, and even students. Anyone, really, who cares about student opportunity, learning, and achievement in dance, media arts, theatre, music, and visual arts.

Kristy: Thank you, Jim, for taking time to explain the back-story and call to action. Your collective leadership is taking us into the future of arts education, the Neo-National Coalition for Core Arts Standards Movement.

11 responses for From Neolithic to Neo-Core Arts Standards: The Back-story to Writing the New Standards


Bob says
September 09, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Oh. My. What is this propaganda ("Your collective leadership is taking us into the future of arts education!!!!")? Not only is most of this "interview" ridiculous, some of it is just incorrect. Benchmarks are standards? Also, this is not really what "triangulation" means.

Sorry for being crabby, but oy. Is it really necessary to have all these articles defending the standards? It makes it seem like the standards writers are worried about reactions to the new standards.

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September 12, 2013 at 9:53 am

Glad to meet you Clyde,
Thank you for taking time to express yourself so passionately during National Arts Education Week! Great guerrilla tactic to toss a few grenades into our blog. What fun! Please elaborate on how this disjointed argument you are posing above is productive? Is this how you promote your "education reform illustrated" work? I visited your website, and your illustrations are marvelous insights into your soul, very sophisticated. Thank you for being the yin to my yang today.
Kristy Callaway

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September 11, 2013 at 4:42 pm

I know an assessment instrument that favors radical behaviorism as an approach to pedagogy when I see it and the CCSS is that instrument.

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Kristen Engebretsen says
September 11, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Hi Clyde, I think you're confusing the CCSS and the new arts standards. The arts have had standards since 1994, and they are currently being revised by the writing teams discussed above. This project is being led, not by Gates or CCSSO/NGA, but by the national associations for arts education:

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September 11, 2013 at 5:59 pm

The College Board is a major player in the development of the new CC Fine Arts standards and they are indeed an advocate of utilizing radical behaviorism to educate children and data driven assessments to evaluate teachers.

When I hear Mr. Palmarini state: "How can you fairly evaluate either students or educators if you don’t have a baseline of instructional practice from which to measure?" I want to ask him what the baseline is for children's mental and psycho-emotional condition.

So inputs equal outputs?

What the new Fine Arts standards will do, if the purpose is to measure learning, is to strike fear in the heats of significant numbers of arts educators and marginalization of fine arts experiences begin.

Why are we involved in new standards development when arts programs all across the U.S. are being marginalized or cut?

There is no comprehensive data on the who is receiving fine arts learning opportunities other than Bob Sabol's recent survey, and that report only provides us with a limited picture of what is going on.

Let me suggest before we jump into measuring fine arts teachers job performance, we first focus on providing every child in America with regular fine arts learning opportunities in all of the fine arts.

The very idea of measuring fine arts teachers sends chills down my spine. Are all children cogs in a machine that one plugs standardized fine arts learning experience into their brains?

The standards do nothing to motivate children. We should be spending time on supporting children's passions, interests and strengths in fine arts learning opportunities, not figuring new ways to create quantitative, data driven measuring instruments in the fine arts.

Parents and teachers and children did not call for these new standards.

Who did?

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Kristen Engebretsen says
September 10, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Hi Clyde,

The new arts standards are indeed based on a solid framework (Understanding by Design), which does take into account how humans learn.

You can read more about the genesis of this project (who called for the standards, etc.) on a previous blog by Lynn Tuttle:

We'll be diving into the topics of standards, assessment, and evaluation in the arts all week long here on ARTSblog, so I hope you'll continue to provide questions and comments--these are the types of conversations that will help our field move forward.

Kristen Engebretsen
Arts Education Program Manager
Americans for the Arts

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September 10, 2013 at 1:30 pm

And humans learn by......?
And state D.O.E. policy makers are influenced by whom?

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September 10, 2013 at 11:58 pm

Apparently Gates wants to standardize fine arts experience too?

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September 10, 2013 at 11:28 am

Mr. Palmarini and his CC standards writing cohorts and their corporate benefactors would have more credibility if they provided a conception of the human mind and a biological explanation of how exactly the new standards facilitate the learning process. Are the new standards so special that they will motivate children to engage with content more than ever? By the way, who called for new arts standards? Was it students, teachers or parents? Or the College Board and their corporate benefactors? This business of triangulation to evaluate teachers is a bunch of gibberish. Data Driven learning experience in the ARTS? REALLY? If you want to marginalize children's arts learning, go ahead and standardize the experience. If you look deep into the CCSS, you will see that it is an effort wholly funded by the Gates Foundation and ALEC to corporatize and control public education. Teachers who subscribe to the CCSS are submitting control of their students learning experiences, professional freedom and expertise to the One Point One Percent.

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September 10, 2013 at 10:11 am

Hi Bob,
You do sound cranky but I love your passion and desire for precise jargon. My goal for this interview is to provide an abbreviated explanation of the new arts standards to a potential broad and new audience, and to frame this in chunks that can be easily shared with their stakeholders. Regarding the writers being worried, that's silly, they are only worried folks will not review them and provide feed back throughout their evolution. Thank you for taking time to read and respond to the blog! You are awesome.
Much respect,
Kristy Callaway
Executive Director
Arts Schools Network

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September 12, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Glad to meet you too Kristy.

The illustrations in the blog represent the successful influence of powerful corporate entities like the Gates Foundation to shape education policies that standardize, homogenize and corporatize public education.

You are aware there is a war on public education taking place right now?

Some of the leaders of this war are affiliated with the College Board, who participated in the writing of the NCCAS. The College Board has much to gain financially from national adoption of the CCSS and the NCCAS.

They are currently marketing curriculum and assessment content and ancillary materials in a collaborative venture with Pearson in tested subjects: .

The CCSS is an effort to nationalize curriculum and assessment.
The NCCAS is an effort to nationalize fine arts curriculum and assessment. Would that be an accurate statement?

Why are we prescribing content that needs to be mastered by every child in every grade level with NO deviation, throughout the country?

I have observed in my 30 plus years of teaching, that when static content is foisted upon children without their consent, for significant numbers of children, that content has no meaning, particularly if they have interests and passions in other areas.

So what Mr. Palmirini is telling us is that now that we have the NCCAS, administrators will have no problem identifying what the children should know.

How do the NCCAS take into account the vast diversity of intellectual and psycho-emotional conditions that exist within the minds of children who attend our Nation's schools.

Thank you,
Clyde Gaw

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