Five Takeaways from This Year’s State Policy Symposium “State of Change: The Arts leading the Way for Student Success.”
I love going to meetings and trying to encapsulate what I’ve learned in major threads or realizations. After considering the wide-ranging presentations and conversations from the Symposium a few weekends ago, I’ve arrived at five salient points.
1. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) presents huge opportunities for arts education. There is, however, no guarantee that we will be the beneficiaries of those opportunities. First, the regulation process is ongoing as the Department of Education tries to decipher nearly 400 pages of legislation and convert that into practical guidelines. Second, even when those regulations appear, the place of arts education is not ensured. Instead, two rather important phrases need to be understood.
2. “A Well Rounded Education.” Throughout the new act students are guaranteed the right to a well-rounded education. Music and the arts are specifically mentioned as part of this concept. This mention replaces the supposed guarantee under No Child Left Behind that the Arts were a part of the core in a child’s education. We all saw what happened over the last 15 years as arts programs were pushed to the fringe or completely out of schools. This new definition provides no more protection than before UNLESS arts educators push for the inclusion of music and the arts in their schools. Fortunately, that is more possible today because of the next phrase.
3. “Evidence Based Instructional Strategies.” In providing a well-rounded education, the emphasis is on using evidence based instructional strategies. Fifteen years ago, we might have thrown up our hands in dismay, but today studies are rapidly appearing that demonstrate the effectiveness of the arts in raising student achievement and improving student engagement. The evidence is there. We just have to be ready to use it. Couple that with the next factor and arts education is almost home.
4. ESSA puts the emphasis back on the states and local districts. Although testing and data are still mandated, the states and local districts are given far more control. Far less Federal influence on what is done means that innovative and creative approaches to student learning are more likely to be acceptable to decision-makers in education—as long as we in arts education do the following.
5. ADVOCATE, ADVOCATE, ADVOCATE! We know we possess methodologies that can have a tremendous positive impact on students. However, that word has still not reached throughout the education community. Now is the time for all of us to spread that word far and wide. Use the data that is now available to drive the conversation inexorably toward the inclusion of arts education in all its many forms.