Working Smarter - not Harder - when Advocating for the Arts

Posted by Stephanie Milling, Jun 18, 2015 1 comment

It is an interesting time in arts education. Two distinct, relatively recent developments--the National Core Arts Standards and New Models of Teacher Evaluation for non-tested subject areas--have greatly contributed to arts education and will continue to have a positive impact on the field for years to come. These projects have provided the field with current perspectives on best practices in teaching and assessing learning in the arts. In addition to providing guidance for educators’ practices in the classroom, these developments in our field also help illustrate the positive impact of the arts in education. While these different tools provide arts educators and administrators with a means to shape valuable arts experiences in education, their relevance could also be used in current advocacy efforts.

The current political climate includes questions regarding continued inclusion of the arts in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and funding that is at an all-time low for Arts-in-Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education . Therefore, despite the current progress in arts education, legislation and funding that could have a direct impact on access to quality arts education in the United States still requires dedicated advocacy efforts. I have no doubt that advocates have used a multitude of data to illustrate the validity of the arts in the classroom, and I am sure that some efforts have included data collected in relation to the implementation of the resources identified above. Such standards for teaching/learning have provided a basis for illustrating the legitimacy of quality arts instruction in education. Therefore, considering the lessons we learn from using such prominent tools in the field and determining how they can illuminate the impact of the educational arts experiences occurring at the state and local levels might provide advocates with prime examples that reflect what is occurring in their communities.

Really, what I am talking about is advocacy 101. In order to craft a compelling message, anecdotal evidence provides a contextual backdrop for the hard-hitting facts that quantify the value of the arts in education. Furthermore, making the message relevant to the work that is occurring in politicians’ districts makes the message personal. While the basic structure for a compelling case is in place, we should consider how the National Core Arts Standards and new models of Teacher Evaluation could be implemented to produce evidence that will appeal to policymakers, school officials, and parents. How are we relying on teachers, the people in the trenches, to help make the case for arts education? They are the people who are collecting the data on a daily basis on learning that occurs in their classrooms. While I would never imply that teachers should do more than they already do, I wonder if considering how these everyday tools can be used in purposeful ways that extends beyond their original intention can result in accessible, tangible information that could be used in advocacy efforts. Below are two thoughts of how this might occur.

First, the National Core Arts Standards are divided up into core arts processes and process components. The structure of the standards places equal emphasis on the creative process and the artistic products created. Such a framework could be used to provide educators with a means to collect assessment data that directly measures learning during the creative process that can simultaneously evaluate the progress that students make as they create artistic work. These authentic measures can demonstrate the learning that occurs in arts classrooms and how it is relevant to the soft skills that current employers value.

Second, some new models of teacher evaluation across the country have provided arts educators with the opportunity to measure student growth in their classrooms to contribute to their performance evaluations. The models are different in each state and sometimes each district. However, the states that are using Student Learning Objectives allow the teacher to design the assessment instruments to chart growth occurring in the classroom. This autonomy in education is a giant leap forward as it allows arts professionals to use their expertise to make determinations of how growth is demonstrated in their subject area. Planning strategically could allow for the collection of data that not only demonstrates learning in relation to an objective relevant to the classroom but statewide initiatives and legislation. By connecting assessment data to the current concerns of state departments of education and policy makers, we can create an arsenal of relevant data while simultaneously fulfilling state mandates.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel in arts advocacy. However, how we use the tools that exist can make the difference between working harder and working smarter. How can we use available resources to create arguments for the arts in everything we do every day? How can every lesson be an opportunity to collect assessment data that connects to other state/federal education initiatives and legislation? By constantly seeking opportunities to make connections to the current questions in our field and beyond, we might be able to gather tangible evidence that appeals to the people who need convincing of the impact of the arts in education. By viewing our practices and procedures as multipurpose efforts, we might be able to accomplish this goal.

1 responses for Working Smarter - not Harder - when Advocating for the Arts


Stuart Dent says
June 22, 2015 at 4:05 am

Although arts standards are important, many districts do not observe/enforce them. Even if every school in every district created a solid rubric for assessing student growth and execution of grade-level standards, most schools would not be able to live up to them. More specifically, many small districts and local feeder systems within large districts lack continuity in the form of vertical alignment. For example, let us assume a middle school orchestra program is to be assessed based on grade-level standards. If there are no elementary-level orchestra programs that feed into the middle school, the scaffolding of skills and standards that might have brought the program to par have likely not been built in such a short time. What is/has been the effect of this lack of continuity? I can tell you that the once prominent arts programs of decades ago suffered gradual degradation in skill and expectations. In my own personal experience as a band director rummaging through old music libraries, I can tell you that most high schools of this current era are not even sufficiently prepared to perform much of the music that I have found at some middle school music libraries. Although there are still some gems here and there, the majority of arts programs are operating on an embarrassingly low level. In my career, I have been given criticism from parents, teachers, staff and students for setting high (and seemingly unattainable) goals. Whenever I get a chance to do so, I will pull out an old music score and have my students marvel at how "difficult" music was back then. Afterwards I have to explain to my students (and sometimes parents) that the human brain has not evolved much in 40 years, and that we need our kids to understand that we can get back to those good times without a lot of arts restructuring and support.

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