Ms. Amysue Mertens

Quality Arts Education for Every American Student

Posted by Ms. Amysue Mertens, Mar 22, 2016 0 comments

Ms. Amysue Mertens

The arts are on an upward trajectory in many places across the United States. This positive path includes states’ adoption of new arts education standards influenced by the National Core Arts Standards model released in 2014 and the flourishing STEAM movement which has STEM proponents and funders acknowledging the natural—dare we say essential—place the arts have in fostering the skills today’s students need to become tomorrow’s innovators. And, federal funding for the arts is more secure than in recent years.

These were some of the takeaways from the recent State Policy Symposium, States of Change which was produced through a partnership with the Arts Education Partnership, Americans for the Arts, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the Education Commission of the States.

Working in Chicago, with the third largest school district in the country, I was particularly motivated by keynote speaker Dr. Monique Chism of the U.S. Department of Education. In her role as Deputy Assistant Secretary, Dr. Chism oversees Title I funding. She spoke of her personal experiences with the arts stemming back to her days as a student at the Cincinnati School for Creative and Performing Arts. Not only does she recognize that the arts have a place in Title I, Chism believes that access to the arts for all students is absolutely an equity issue, and is inexorably tied to our freedoms defined by the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

Having a strong arts supporter at the USDOE is wonderful, but for the director of Title I to continue to come out in strong support of the fund's use for the arts is a huge victory. This is especially true for urban districts, particularly as states craft their plans and seek creative ways to fund the well-rounded education called for in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Now we need to capitalize on her enthusiasm for Title I use by sharing her words and suggestions with our state boards and local districts, ensuring that everyone who needs to know has the information to empower them to use Title I for arts education. (I for one emailed the Illinois State Board of Education from my chair at the Symposium with photos of Chism’s slides!)

Following Dr. Chism, I had the honor of serving on the Symposium’s panel with colleagues Doug Israel from the Center for Arts Education (New York City, NY) and Steve Venz from the Orange County Department of Education (Orange County, CA). We were asked to share our creative uses of local funding to address opportunity and achievement gaps in arts provision. Doug spoke about how capitalizing on advocacy moments gained New York City more than $20 million in city funds for arts education. I discussed a video we created about the importance of teaching the arts. It was targeted at principals at a time when they were making difficult budget decisions. I hope our stories were encouraging and inspiring. 

The Symposium also gives us the chance to speak to colleagues from across the country, and compare our programs and processes. These conversations serve as a good reminder that challenges to our work abound. While some of us are steeped in the bureaucracies of highly populated urban environments, many in rural areas are dealing with equally difficult challenges such as coordinating programs across large geographic regions where there may not even be a cultural institution with which to partner.

Each of us comes to the annual event with unique perspectives on the work. The Symposium offers some common ground. Because the challenges ahead may be many, each municipality’s solution may be unique, but we all seek the same goal--a quality arts education for every American student. 

(Search #StatesofChange2016 for highlights).

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