Arts Education and Quantification

For nearly a decade now, we have talked about quantifying the impact of education.  How do we effectively measure student progress?  How do we measure effective teaching?  How do we make sure our policymakers, school districts, administrators, and educators are doing their jobs when it comes to impactful and results-based instruction?

For many, AYP and achievement on the state assessments usually suffices.  Under federal law, we are now measuring core competency in reading, math, and science, using those scores as a benchmark for evaluating student achievement.  Like it or not, decisionmaking and funding is usually based on that triad of academic subjects, with reading and math winning the day (as science is the late comer to this little education data dance.)
But what about other subjects?  More importantly, what about the arts?  How many people are truly aware that this year’s NAEP results are going to include data on our nation’s proficiency in the arts?  How many know that the arts are included in the federal law as a core part of the K-12 curriculum?  How many know that there are some states looking at how to measure effective art instruction and determine student knowledge and ability in the field?  And more importantly, how many realize that effective arts education can be used as an early predictor of student reading ability and a general predictor of a student’s postsecondary pursuits and opportunities?
A few years ago, while working with new Leaders for New Schools on its EPIC teacher incentive program, I learned of a music teacher in the District of Columbia who was doing phenomenal work with her kindergarten music students.  To an outside observer, you would think you were watching a math class.  But she was using the power of music to teacher her students.  She was integrating the arts into the other subjects her kids were taking.  And she was doing so with incredible results.
In recent years, the arts have faced some trying times.  They are usually the first on the budgetary chopping block, seen as a nice value-add but not part of the core curriculum it actually is.  This tends to be driven by a great public misperception about the arts’ role in K-12 and our general inability to quantify the impact of its teaching.  Thing about it.  For what other academic subject do we sacrifice certified, effective teachers, substituting in well-meaning but untrained professionals-in-residence?  And in what other subjects do we fail to see the negative impact such a move can have?  We don’t have to talk about the need for a certified reading, math, science, social studies, foreign language, or even physical education or drivers ed teacher in every school, but we have to have that fight over a certified arts teacher far too often.
We are starting to see some of the data pointing to the value and impact of arts education.  As chair of the Education Commission of the States, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee placed a spotlight on the need for arts education.  We’re seeing quantifiable data out of the University of California, Los Angeles and the College Board on the outcomes.  The research is coming, and it is telling us a lot.
When I teach effective communication, I often focus on the power of telling an effect story.  Data points are nice, but we really resonate with the personal story.  We like to hear about the real people and the real communities that are affected by real policies and real ideas.  We like to hear about the protagonist, the struggle, and the ultimate victory.  We want the fairy tale, even for issues such as education policy, education research, and school improvement and innovation.
So this evening, I want to pass along a little story on that has appeared in two parts recently on Huffington Post, written by one of the most passionate advocates for arts education Eduflack has ever come across.  Lucia Brawley.  Part one can be found here, with part two recently published here.  Brawley tells a fascinating story, highlighting both the “art” and the “science” behind arts education.  For those who question the true value of the visual arts, drama, and music in the classroom, it is a most read.
As we start contemplating reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and what are the non-negotiables for new programs such as the Innovation Fund and the Race to the Top, we need to consider these data points and these stories as we build a better K-12 educational system.  Effective learning and skill development can come from many places, particularly if we have the data to prove it.  Not every child is going to become the next Jackson Pollack, Wynton Marsalis, or Meryl Streep.  They may not even be particularly talented in any of the arts.  But they can benefit from effective visual arts, music, and theater programs.  And we are gathering the research to prove it.
 

249 thoughts on “Arts Education and Quantification

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