State Proposal puts Arts Education in Curriculum Standards

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After six months of research and outreach to Massachusetts residents, on January 23rd , the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) proposed draft regulations that include access and participation in arts education as an indicator in its school accountability plan. DESE’s commitment to including arts education in the Commonwealth’s plan would put arts education back into the core learning of all Massachusetts students.

“This proposal puts arts education squarely in the core curriculum for schools and students. By measuring participation of students in arts education from grades K-12 as criteria for school success, state leaders have recognized the impact that that arts have on college readiness, school climate, and teaching our kids valuable 21st century skills,” said Matt Wilson, MASSCreative’s Executive Director.

In December 2015, Congress retired No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the federal law that guided the nation’s educational system for the last two decades. NCLB emphasized instruction in Math and English, coupled with annual testing, as a means of measuring progress. One of the admitted unintended consequences of No Child Left Behind has been a national narrowing of the curriculum to focus on English/Language Arts (ELA), Math, and Science, as those fields have standardized tests. This narrowing is especially noticeable in low-income urban and rural districts, resulting in an even greater disparity of educational opportunity.

In its place, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Under ESSA, instruction in the arts is now included in the definition of a “well-rounded education.” In preparation for implementation of ESSA for the 2017-18 academic year, each state must revise its accountability plan for success in education to reflect this new definition. In addition to test scores― the new systems must include other indicators of school quality, such as measures like participation in arts instruction.

A final draft for public comment is expected to be released by the end of February for a 30-day public comment period. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is expected to vote on the proposal at its March 28th meeting.

Extensive research has shown that arts education prepares students for success after high school by enhancing student engagement and promoting academic achievement. Additionally, it has been proven to be an effective strategy in turning around low-performing districts.

  • Arts education helps students develop the skills they need to be successful in college and in the 21st century workplace, such as problem solving, critical and creative thinking, dealing with ambiguity and complexity, and collaboration and team work skills.
  • Research has shown that arts education develops student motivation and engagement, including improved attendance, persistence, focused attention, heightening education outcomes, and intellectual risk taking.
  • Arts education can be a powerful driver of school climate and culture. The arts enhance relationships between teachers, students, families, and the community, creating new connections, fostering collaboration, and increasing school pride.
  • When used as an explicit part of school turnaround plans, arts education has been linked to lower suspension rates, higher graduation rates, and marked increase in Math and English/Language Arts test scores.

The Massachusetts Arts for All Coalition consists of MASSCreative, Arts|Learning, EdVestors, the Boston Public Schools, Project LEARN - Lowell, MassINC, and Young Audience of Massachusetts.

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