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Arts Education Policy Review: Analyzing the literature post-NCLB 1

    Arts Education Policy Review:

    Analyzing the literature post-NCLB

    R. Stewart

    EDUC 227, UCR

    Spring 2010

    Arts Education Policy Review: Analyzing the literature post-NCLB 2


     Today’s K-12 schools place intense focus on the acceleration of academics. Political leaders consistently push for increased test scores, improved core programming, and facilitating strong reading and math skills to insure the future success of American students. The curriculum is increasingly standards-based, requiring that students from all walks of life meet numerical criterion in select areas of study. These preferential areas, however, may be more reflective of values held by our forefathers during a time of homogenous classrooms rather than the melting pot of cultures, languages, and cognitive ability levels present in most schools today.

     In the years since desegregation, classrooms have become significantly more diverse. Teachers are quite often required to work with children and teens whose familial backgrounds are much different than their own. With the passage of legislation including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and more recently No Child Left Behind (NCLB), behavior, language, and different learning styles are no longer reason enough for the alternative student to be excluded from general education settings. Classrooms no longer reflect a group of like-minded learners, particularly in elementary schools, and there is a push to place a more diverse population into advanced tracks at the high school level as well. Unfortunately most teachers are ill prepared to handle the influx of diversity, and gaps in achievement are consistently reported between genders, ethnicities, and behavioral diagnoses.

     It is intriguing that, as schools become more diverse, evaluative measures have become more standardized. In an attempt to insure an equal education for all, much emphasis has been placed on subject-specific performance within areas deemed

    Arts Education Policy Review: Analyzing the literature post-NCLB 3 appropriate by policy makers. These specific subjects, though used to report the success of students from an array of cultures, are rooted in the same academic values established by European Americans centuries ago. But perhaps the subjects valued by the first Americans are not what people from other cultures have evolved to value or excel within. Perhaps judging the success of schools in producing intelligent, functional, and happy members of society cannot be done solely through numerical reports of fact memorization in select subject areas.

     Not only may students of minority cultures suffer discrimination by way of an unbalanced curriculum, but standardized, one-dimensional study may also limit the ability of even the most accelerated of students to apply concepts and develop abstract thinking skills. As academic programs are pared down and geared toward performance on a single type of assessment, the ability to utilize those skills in the real world becomes depleted. Investigative inquiry is lost in favor of memorization and regurgitation; reflective thinking and social intelligence are moved aside to make room for individualized fact acquisition.

     Published in the peer-reviewed, internationally collaborative journal Arts Education Policy Review (AEPR) is a collection of research documents and opinion papers that discuss the necessity of arts education in the K-12 system. Topics in AEPR range from the value of studying the arts, to preservation of the arts, to whether or not the arts should be studied in their own right. Various authors challenge the deletion of creative exploration from the curriculum and offer that SAT scores alone will not be enough to drive a diverse nation towards academic or social excellence. In this paper, I attempt to summarize the opinions about art education as reflected in AEPR particularly as they have evolved since the inception of NCLB.

    Arts Education Policy Review: Analyzing the literature post-NCLB 4

     Certainly, the establishment of NCLB has brought about heavy standardization of curriculum. I search the literature for how this standardization has impacted the implementation of the arts and to determine if the way arts advocates approach the subject has changed. Is the study of arts hindered in any way? How so? If there are hindrances to arts education, how can the situation be remedied? In this literature review, I aim to understand both how the arts are viewed in the current educational environment, how that opinion has changed since NCLB, and how it is suggested that educators move forward in establishing a well-rounded curriculum capable of engaging a wide range of learners.


     The purpose of this review is to determine the opinions and ideas expressed in AEPR as they have evolved since the passage of NCLB. To identify articles appropriate for inclusion, I begin by searching the AEPR listings through heldref publications ( AEPR’s entire back catalogue is made

    available online, but only articles issued after Jan 1, 2000 are considered for this document. Additional inclusion criteria are as follows:

    1) Articles focus on policy regarding fine and performing arts. Discussions of

    technology-based study, automotive repair, and other vocational emphases are

    not included.

    2) Topics pertaining to domestic policy are included, while those articles submitted

    from outside the United States are not

    3) Original opinions or data are reflected, rather than the re-issue of past literature

    or analysis of classic philosophy.

    4) Articles place concentration on arts education policy in K-12 schools.

    Arts Education Policy Review: Analyzing the literature post-NCLB 5


    It should be noted that, while there is great agreement that investigation into and through the arts can support understanding of different cultures, the authors in conjunction with AEPR focus more directly on the enriching experience arts education creates for ALL students. The innate value and complexity of the fine arts are held in high regard by the journal and its constituents, and must be considered beyond basic connections to history and social studies lessons (Chapman 2000). Finding a relationship to various art forms is seen as valuable in its own light. Additionally of interest, though not under direct investigation in the present review, is the unbalanced representation of the various art forms. Within the fine and performing arts, music is heavily represented with dance at a distant second. Theatre and drama are discussed minimally, and discussions of studio art are indeed sparse. Because of this uneven distribution of attention, findings that in many of the articles published “the arts” are considered holistically, and the vast scope one would need to take in order to consider each discipline separately, this review includes discipline-specific literature along with discussions of arts in the holistic sense but will not concentrate on opinions as related to individual art forms.

    In total, 193 articles are identified that meet inclusion criteria. Several themes are identified in the literature, including the impact of arts education on teachers and on students, suggested emphases of arts programming and it’s relation to the standardization movement, partnerships with universities and non-profit organizations, and how language and imagery hinder/advance art education. More broadly, thoughts are categorized into systemic issues- specific reaction to policy movements and discussions of teacher training- and how to properly implement arts programs and what their emphases should be. In this

    Arts Education Policy Review: Analyzing the literature post-NCLB 6 section, select articles are examined to determine general opinions expressed in AEPR and how those opinions, as well as the way they are presented, have evolved in the decade since NCLB.

    Systemic Issues

     Widely recognized is the fact that arts, though now a part of the “standards” in educational curriculum, are not as successfully implemented as most other subjects. Consistent in the literature is the opinion that language about “art” is very different than

    language about school or learning, which makes discussing art in K-12 education inherently difficult. Different takes on the meaning of “culture” may confuse the public as to whether we are making our students cultured or teaching them about culture (Dorn 2003). Discussions of integrated curriculum vary widely, even within AEPR itself. Are educators to integrate content? Integrate learning modalities? The push to approach the arts as an interdisciplinary method of acquiring information has caused the arts to be taught through classes in which they do not belong and by generalist teachers who lack the expertise to appropriately inspire the next generation of artists (Brewer 2003, Cutietta 2007).

     Art education, an already difficult area to discuss and implement successfully in schools, has been made even more controversial through the inception of NCLB. Recent authors can admit the important step policy makers have taken in including arts education in the NCLB standards, but because of the inherent difference between art and other disciplines of education the guidelines put in place may actually do more damage than good (Grey 2010).

    Arts Education Policy Review: Analyzing the literature post-NCLB 7

     In the early 2000’s, concerns are expressed that arts may not fit in to the era of standardization at all. Authors such as Duffy & Friend (2003) and Bumgarner-Gee (2002) draw attention to policy-makers focus on scientific inquiry and explaining in detail the curriculum and outcome goals for our students. But, because the arts hinge heavily on exploration and creativity, it may not be possible to quantify their existence in a way that satisfies NCLB guidelines (Duffy & Friend 2003). AEPR authors express concern that, without the ability to fit the goals of art education into a data-based system, the arts will lose an already unstable place in the “basics” of education.

     Later research this decade has confirmed and clarified the position of danger in which the arts lie. NCLB stresses the need for inexpensive, comparable test data- a suggestion from which an abundance of multiple-choice, quickly assessable tests have spawned. The arts, however, cannot be measured through a scantron machine. Conceptual understanding and passionate expression cannot be separated in the world of art (Chapman 2005), and therefore assessment cannot be streamlined in the way encouraged by national legislature. Assessing the arts requires human eyes to take time in analyzing a piece of work, and cannot be done nearly as inexpensively as academic disciplines which can be evaluated by number of facts memorized (Chapman 2007, Beveridge 2010). Because of the difficulty in analyzing outcome measures of the arts, their study is misplaced both in student performance and in research-based curriculum.

     Many issues in assessing artwork are addressed in the literature, and I will return to the difficulty in analyzing student output later in this review. At this time, it is important to understand the expertise of those performing the assessment. Common throughout the last decade is the idea that art teachers, and all teachers for that matter, need more training.

    Arts Education Policy Review: Analyzing the literature post-NCLB 8 Poor teacher training not only hurts student perceptions of a particular field of study, but also the long-term success of that field in the community at large (Hope 2007). Many suggest University partnerships to improve both pre- and in-service teacher training and stress the importance of establishing both pedagogical and technical knowledge (Bumgarner-Gee 2002, Duffy & Friend 2003, Colwell 2007). Teachers must be held accountable both to the needs of the school and the discipline in which they teach.

     While the earlier literature regarding teacher stresses the importance of teacher training, little distinction is made between the needs of art teachers and the needs of teachers in general. In the later half of the decade, attempts are made to more specifically unpack the unique position of art educators. Schieb (2006) and Jones (2007) both discuss in detail the dual role the art teachers have in the school and community and the emotional struggle they might undergo as they establish a professional identity. There is no clear definition for how much of an artist one needs to be versus how much of a teacher, and the personal investment that each role requires can become tiresome if the correct balance cannot be found. There must be a balance between performance and strong content-knowledge for teacher and student, plus skill in communicating knowledge possessed to other people. The difficult task of balancing one’s own art with the communication of passion and content to others may be in part responsible for the high teacher turnover rates reported by Gardner in 2010. Add in the fact that art teaching positions are usually part time and there is little to no support when working in the special education arena, and it is no wonder that art educators often abandon their jobs in search of better salaries and benefits (Gardner 2010).

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     Mid-decade, helpful opinions were raised by AEPR authors that teachers must become more self-directed in both advocacy efforts and professional development (Barrett 2006). Also, a push has been made for art teachers to become more responsible; to set a good example. Professional boundaries may become even more important in art education and teachers are highly encouraged to be respectful of district policies (Lazarus 2006). While these are important elements in improving the opinion of art education and its teaching staff, training and support for working in and creating change around a controversial area of education must also be offered. With a trend toward more specific analysis of the daily difficulties facing those teaching the arts, perhaps they can eventually establish responsible consideration of themselves and their academic disciplines within the standards of education.

    Implementation of the Arts

     Clearly, the responsibilities of arts educators are numerous. They must be pedagogically knowledgeable, be able to execute their art form, and posses the technical knowledge required to effectively communicate both fact and passion to their students. I must wonder, then, is this too much responsibility for one person? Even with University partnerships for professional development, can teachers of art uphold these responsibilities on their own? There is a lot of discussion regarding who truly should take responsibility for implementing arts programs. While improving the art knowledge of general education teachers or technical knowledge of artists pose potential solutions, several authors suggest that partnering with community organizations could be another way to address the under-training of art educators. Private organizations may offer teaching artists that, with their depth of experience in a particular art form, may be much

    Arts Education Policy Review: Analyzing the literature post-NCLB 10 better than general teachers at communicating the inherent value of the arts (Bumgarner-Gee 2002). There may be limitations to these partnerships, however. Administrators must be savvy enough to insure that the educational goals of the school are being met and that the outside organization does not monopolize art study with their own particular goals. Also, it is not enough to rely on community-based organizations because schools in low-income areas may not have the some access to these groups as more affluent schools (Constantino 2003).

    Charter schools and private art studios have also been offered as alternatives to concerns for teacher training- but again, as a nation we cannot rely on these types of organizations for fear of denying access to low income families (Gratto 2001, Constantino 2003). Later reports on partnerships with non-profit community organizations have proven fruitful, and schools are encouraged to seek out teaching artists both to engage students in the meaning of art as well as aid in teacher training (Colley 2008, Amerin-Beardsley 2009). Perhaps the success of these programs can be facilitated by the suggestions of McKean (2001) to very clearly define the roles of those involved with arts education. Teachers and outside professionals must collaborate effectively and understand fully their responsibilities within an art education program. Demonstration; instruction; discipline; assessment. Who takes on each of these responsibilities may vary between school sites, but clear delineations must be made for both student instruction and teacher training.

     As mentioned, a benefit of employing teaching artists from outside the school may be that they can more effectively communicate the inherent value of the art itself. Of great discussion throughout every volume of AEPR are the emphases of art education programs.

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