Arts education: a wrench, not a flower

Addressing the National Association for Music Education last week, Rachel Goslins, executive director of President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, described her Committee as unexpectedly becoming arts evangelists after an 18-month process observing great schools and reviewing longitudinal studies, recent brain research, and arts integration and testing data. Their resulting report states simply that the arts actually have the power to fix many of our toughest educational challenges. Art isn’t a flower, it’s a wrench.

The President’s committee emerged from the process inspired both by robust data that clearly shows the effect of arts education on academic achievement and creativity, and by firsthand observations in neighborhood schools…. These schools are improving test scores and fostering their students’ competitiveness in the workforce by investing in arts education strategies, even in the toughest neighborhoods.

Recommendations follow from the committee’s May 2011 report titled Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools, with my comments:

#1:  Build robust collaborations among different approaches to art education. Arts education looks vastly different in different school communities and even from school to school across the country. Communication and collaboration can only be win-win in this high-stakes educational era.

#2:  Develop the field of arts education. Who first said that extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures? I believe that the creativity with which we approach and deliver arts education should model the creativity and innovative thinking that we seek to foster in our children. What do you say? Let’s do that!

#3:  Expand in-school opportunities for teaching artists. Again, creativity is key. Collaboration is key. Funding is key. Interpreting this funding as integral rather than “enriching” is key.

#4:  Utilize federal and state policies to reinforce the place of arts in K-12 education. I experience this as a vague statement in an otherwise compelling document. What does it really mean? How does it help? The summary doesn’t tell me enough. I’ll have to go to the full report to read more about this particular recommendation.

#5:  Widen the focus of evidence gathering about arts education. If last week’s 2012 Biennial National Music Educators Conference poster sessions are an indication, research is indeed still rather scarce on the short- and long-term impacts of integrative approaches to arts education. I’ll take the time to read the full report next to look for the “robust data” referenced in its summary. My deep conviction–from my own rich journey as artist, teacher, and mother–that arts integration is an increasingly critical part of 21st century education leads me to my first interest in potentially doing research. We’ll see.

Read the full report here or its summary and recommendations here.

For part 1 of this 3-part piece, go to Get me to (and around) St. Louie.

For part 2 of this 3-part piece, go to Arts education: good, or crucial.