U.S. Education Official Responds to Arts Education Concerns

Posted by Tim Mikulski, Jul 08, 2010 1 comment

Last month’s Americans for the Arts Half-Century Summit in Baltimore, MD, was a rousing success on many fronts. Despite economic challenges, a thousand attendees joined us for several days of networking, collaborating, and learning.

In honor of the organization’s 50th anniversary year, this year’s annual convention featured visionary panel sessions, providing the field with an opportunity to listen to, and engage with, leaders in their respective fields to discuss the future. The arts education visionary panel was moderated by Chris Tebben, executive director of Grantmakers for Education, and featured Eric Booth (teaching artist/consultant), Jillian Darwish (vice president of organizational learning and innovation at KnowledgeWorks Foundation), Carrie Fitzsimmons (international director for strategy at ArtScience Labs), and James Shelton (assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement at the U.S. Department of Education).

The discussion on the current outlook and future of arts education was lively and engaging, but it was Mr. Shelton who sparked concern from many in the audience. Among his remarks, Mr. Shelton described the collection of research supporting arts education as, “loose” and, in another instance, he appeared to suggest that future arts education policy efforts should be more focused on out-of-school activities.

As hosts of the panel, we quickly found out that news of his remarks were spreading around the country as attendees shared the comments with their colleagues, who then shared them with others, etc.

After returning to D.C., Americans for the Arts Director of Federal Affairs Narric Rome sent a letter to Mr. Shelton, providing him the opportunity to publicly clarify what he meant, and reassure the arts education community that the department’s effort to strengthen arts education through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and elsewhere, remained a priority.

Mr. Shelton responded with a detailed letter clarifying those comments and reiterating the Department of Education’s support for arts education.

While we still have a great deal of work to do to strengthen arts education at the federal level, our staff is pleased that he was able to respond quickly and is quite aware of the realities that arts education advocates encounter on a state and local level.

If you were able to attend the panel session, or heard about it from others, does Mr. Shelton’s letter address any concerns that you had?

In your opinion, what types of policies should the department have in place related to arts education?

1 responses for U.S. Education Official Responds to Arts Education Concerns


Ms. Karen Bradley says
July 08, 2010 at 6:57 pm

I did not attend the panel, and have only read the letter. I have a concern, and a challenge to Mr. Shelton.

RE: "causal relationships between programs and outcomes".

Until the research in ALL of education, not only arts education, can reach the level of identifying causal relationships through research studies, restricting support for programs that obviously work is both short-sighted and does little for innovation or effective instruction.

What such research requires, given the fact that children do not exist in petri dishes and are exposed to multiple variables in their school and home day, is a huge influx of infrastructure and funding in order to achieve robust enough evidence that a particular program is having a particular, and replicable effect.

Until that is in place, we need to challenge Mr. Shelton, and his colleagues, to prove to us that ANY program has a proven track record of CAUSALITY.

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