The Role of the Arts Specialist

Posted by Ms. Lauren S. Hess, May 19, 2015 2 comments

Public schools are full of turmoil these days. Debate over the shift to the Common Core Standards that has taken place over the last few years is causing tension. Teachers are working overtime to figure out the new standardized tests that have been created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) to assess the new standards. People are concerned about the amount of standardized testing occurring in our schools throughout the year. Most recently, parents in some communities are taking action and pulling their children from taking the standardized tests.

In Ohio elementary schools, there is the added stress of the Third Grade Guarantee, a program that identifies students from kindergarten through third grade that are behind in reading. Those students get extra time with reading specialists and tutors to make sure they are on track for reading success by the end of the third grade.

Having recently stepped back into the education world, after a six-year hiatus, I am dumbfounded by the amount of stress that everyone in our schools is under, from the principals, to the teachers, to the students! As a former music teacher, I’m also seeing something in some schools that I find rather alarming. So, at the risk of adding one more concern to the list of what is happening in our schools, I feel I must ask the following question. How much arts education do our students really receive?

Most schools have music and visual arts teachers to some degree. Full time and part time positions vary. Some arts education is always better than none. Rarely do you find schools that have a theatre or a dance teacher on faculty, unless you are looking at a Performing Arts School.

Suppose you are lucky and your community’s schools have full time music and visual art teachers. How often do they see their students during the week? How long is the class? One would assume they probably see their students twice a week for 30 – 45 minutes. However this is not true in many schools across the country, from New York, to Chicago, to Cincinnati, to Boston, to many other communities. What is expected of the music or visual art teacher in your public schools?

Across the country at an alarming rate, arts specialists are being asked to do “interventions” with students that are falling behind in reading. At some schools, everyone in the building is being asked to work with those students. Some arts specialists have up to one third of their schedules devoted to interventions with students that need extra help. When I was studying music education, I never received any literacy or math education classes. Our focus was on music pedagogy, as it should have been. The focus of some school administrators is so test-driven that important aspects that enrich education are being left behind.

I urge you to put on your arts education advocate hat and start asking questions in your school district. School administrators should be aware of what is going on in their districts. Do students receive a full complement of arts classes, or are the arts specialists expected to dedicate the majority of their time to interventions with other students? Arts specialists should be able to focus their work on what they know best: introducing children to music, visual art, creativity, problem solving, team work - all skills that will help students become well rounded young citizens.

2 responses for The Role of the Arts Specialist


May 19, 2015 at 6:11 pm

Thank you Mrs. Hess for writing this post. Not only do high stakes standardized tests create toxic stress and undue pressure for students, teachers and administrators to generate numbers beyond the cut score, the children's curriculum becomes one big high-stakes-test behavior modification program. Creativity in the regular curriculum? Student autonomy? Fhugetaboutit!!! Art teachers coerced to perform interventions is most definitely immoral. What is even more immoral is driving the cold hard stake of inappropriate pressure into the malleable hearts and minds of children and the weighing their educational growth like meat on a butcher's scale. When education policies are designed to support high stakes testing companies while ignoring rising class size, child poverty, child mental illness rates and professional teacher retention, this societies future is in trouble.

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June 11, 2015 at 6:30 pm

Lauren, you bring up some excellent questions. What should also be brought into the mix is that some arts educators in the schools are sometimes in two or three buildings. If a teacher is going to be a true part of the culture of a school, even a Teacher of the Universe Award Winner cannot invest in three schools at one time. In addition, it seems as if the administrator's viewpoint on the arts is a big piece of the pie. Does he/she make the arts a priority? Find outside resources for arts education funding? Carve out time for community art partnerships? Let us highlight those administrators who are seeing the arts as core.

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