The ABCs of Arts Education

Get the facts on arts education.
Table of contents

The ABCs of Arts Education

In a September 1996 poll, reported in Learning magazine,

  • 90 percent of parents said they want their kids to have more experience with the arts than they had as children; and
  • 93 percent of Americans agreed that music is part of a well-rounded education.

Parents, educators, policymakers, and businesses have been pushing to bring art curricula that meet specific standards into schools across the U.S. And the National Art Education Association reports that 28 states now require some arts study before high-school graduation, compared with only two states back in 1980.

What's changed since 1980? Ten years ago, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) published a report to Congress on the status of arts education. It found that the arts weren't considered to be "serious learning." The NEA called for a definition of arts education, and requested that more time, personnel, and resources be devoted to it. The NEA also recommended that the U.S. Department of Education advocate for more arts education in schools.

And why not? An arts education isn't just for kids who are interested in the arts. Jane Alexander, actress and former chair of the NEA, says, "Studies show that arts in the curriculum can provide greater motivation to learn, increase attendance for students and teachers, raise test scores, and develop higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills."

Setting Standards

President Clinton raised arts education from an extracurricular activity to a core subject in 1994 when he signed the Goals 2000: Educate America Act into law.

A set of national standards for arts education was also created in 1994 by national associations of teachers of the arts. These standards separate the arts into disciplines: dance, music, theater, and the visual arts. Developers suggest that, by graduation, students should be able to communicate at a basic level in all four disciplines; communicate competently in at least one art form; develop and present analyses of works of art; be acquainted with works of art from a variety of cultures and time periods; and relate various types of art knowledge within and across the arts disciplines.

These standards are not mandated; they serve as a blueprint that state boards of education can adopt, or adapt. States, school districts, and parents like you determine how and if arts education will enter local classrooms.