Where do you fall in the education debate?
For arts education programs and advocates to be successful, we must design our strategy and programs to fit within the larger context of public education. If our provision tactics—such as teaching artist residencies—do not fit within the limiting elements of our schools—such as budgets and schedules—then our work must change. If student requirements levied by the federal, state, or local policy narrow the curriculum too harshly to allow our kids to learn in and through the arts, then our work must change.
For example, arts integration has been used as more than as an instructional strategy. It has been an advocacy strategy. Providers have used arts integration to fit within scheduling limitations of schools. This is a response to the existing context of education.
Other programs now work with decision-makers that have more influence over the policy and funding conditions that may narrow the curriculum. Outreach to decision-making adults such as school boards and legislators seems to have become a part of many local programs, though years ago only national and state-level organizations did it. This is an effort to change the context of education.
So have you noticed that in the past few months and years this context is changing more quickly? A great education debate is afoot.
• How do we assess teachers? Based on students’ test scores?
• Are standardized tests themselves reliable? Are they the best way we have right now to assess student success? Are they just the most affordable, scalable option?
• Race to the Top leveraged huge sums of money during a financial crisis to change state-level policy. Will that increase schools’ and parents’ freedom to innovate and to arbitrate quality or was it an aggressive political agenda based upon unproven reform strategies?
• Are teacher unions the root of intractably failing schools or a necessary protection from unreliable teacher assessments?
• Will the Common Core unify American education or will it homogenize and weaken it?
• When NCLB is reauthorized soon, what will its required student assessments be? More tests? Tests and something else? What are our other options?
These questions are being wrestled with by policy makers, educators, nonprofits, business (who stands to make even more money off costly education reforms), U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and the rest of the USDOE. They’re debated by politicians and teacher union leaders. They’ve made their way into the mainstream press—journalists and op-ed contributors alike. And they’ve confused our stereotypes about Democratic versus Republican education policy; charters and accountability aren’t relegated to the Republican platform, just like championing unions isn’t a staple of every Democrat’s campaign anymore.
These questions may not appear to implicate arts education. But they absolutely do. Arts education is fundamentally an issue of Who Teaches What to Whom and For How Long. And each one of these critical elements of education—teachers (who); curricula (what); students (to whom); and instructional time (for how long)—make or break arts education.
So my recommendation is that you get online and start posting your thoughts, feelings, and reform ideas. You can do it on blogs and newspaper websites. Start a Facebook page in support of an idea you believe in or a position you hold. Catalyze thoughtful responses in your peers and colleagues. Contribute to the debate because you can either pitch in to help shape the new context or take what you get.
This debate will end and someone, somewhere, will win. One set of ideas and policies will prevail. And arts educators will be left with the challenge to provide arts education to American students with whatever money, time, and leadership is left.