Q: Our district cut arts programs during the recession. A parent group wants to get them restored. Our parent-teacher organization will pay for a teacher's salary, but the principal says that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) teacher training is a higher priority. How can we make the case? Arts can put joy in learning for many kids.
A: Integrating the arts into instruction can put the joy back in teaching, too. The arts and the CCSS are not mutually exclusive.
David Coleman, architect of the CCSS and president of education nonprofit the College Board, says, "The great news is that the (Common Core) standards call on so many things the arts do well. The tradition of careful observation, attention to evidence and artists' choices, the love of taking an artist's work seriously lies at the heart of these standards."
Many educators are delighted that schools are incorporating arts into CCSS training. For example, arts integration specialist Susan Riley shows teachers how to change STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) instruction to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) through workshops and CCSS-aligned projects at educationcloset.com.
While it's wonderful that the PTO is stepping up, "The best way to get the arts back is to be proactive, strategic and build a constituency willing to spend the financial and political capital to keep an arts program alive over time," says Nancy Roucher, a Florida art educator who helped build the volunteer Sarasota Community/Schools Partnership for the Arts. Created in 1996, the alliance is now a national model.
To bring the arts back to stay, Roucher suggests:
-- Research ways the arts benefit students, such as developing cognitive skills that lead to mastery of other core subjects. The Arts Education Partnership is a good place to start (aep-arts.org).
-- Share that research in plain language with parents, policymakers, curriculum specialists, business and civic leaders. Discuss why arts skills are important to your community and workforce. Interview professionals who use the arts in their careers.
-- Choose a small, dedicated advisory group to take your plan forward.
-- Meet with curriculum experts to discuss what you want children to know and be able to do in the arts upon graduation, and show how these goals correlate to the CCSS.
-- Build momentum with a communications campaign. "We used everything from slides in movie theaters, to kids' posters in stores, arts teachers talking to civic groups, and an administrator who spoke about how learning the violin was as important for him as playing on the football team," says Roucher. Make social media a key component.
-- Don't rest on your laurels. "You have new boards and constituencies to convince each year," says Roucher. "Take a cue from the athletic department. Generate excitement by giving awards and showcasing student talent. Maintain your focus to retain your hard-won gains."
-- Include arts in afterschool and summer programs. Encourage parents to enjoy arts-related activities with children. Promote visits to museums, theaters, libraries, galleries and art performances. When buying for kids, consider gifts such as art supplies as well as play, dance or concert tickets.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)