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Forum focus: arts awareness and advocacy.

Editor's Note: Last July, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Rod Paige sent a letter to some 16,000 superintendents of our public schools emphasizing the need for arts education. This historic letter underscores the importance of music curriculum in schools. MTNA members are encouraged to be strong advocates in their own communities. Below is the text of the letter.

Dear Superintendent:

As I am sure you know, the arts are a core academic subject under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). I believe the arts have a significant role in education both for their intrinsic value and for the ways in which they can enhance general academic achievement and improve students' social and emotional development.

As I travel the country, I often hear that arts education programs are endangered because of No Child Left Behind. This message was echoed in a recent series of teacher roundtables sponsored by the Department of Education. It is both disturbing and just plain wrong.

It's disturbing not just because arts programs are being diminished or eliminated, but because NCLB is being interpreted so narrowly as to be considered the reason for these actions. The truth is that NCLB included the arts as a core academic subject because of their importance to a child's education. No Child Left Behind expects teachers of the arts to be highly qualified, just as it does teachers of English, math, science and history.

The Value of the Arts

The arts, perhaps more than any other subject, help students to understand themselves and others, whether they lived in the past or are living in the present. President Bush recognizes this important contribution of the arts to every child's education. He has said, "From music and dance to painting and sculpting, the arts allow us to explore new worlds and to view life from another perspective." In addition, they "encourage individuals to sharpen their skills and abilities and to nurture their imagination and intellect."

A comprehensive arts education may encompass such areas as the history of the arts, the honing of critical analysis skills, the recreation of classic as well as contemporary works of art, and the expression of students' ideas and feelings through the creation of their own works of art. In other words, students should have the opportunity to respond to, perform and create in the arts.

Setting the Record Straight

There is much flexibility for states and local school districts under the No Child Left Behind Act with respect to support for the core subjects. In Arizona, for example, as part of Superintendent Tom Home's current "content-rich curriculum" initiative, $4 million in Comprehensive School Reform (Title I, Part F) funds are supporting arts education at 413 current Comprehensive School Reform schools throughout the state. Additional Arizona Arts Education initiative school sites are being supported with Title V (Innovative Programs) funding under NCLB.

Under NCLB, Title I, Part A funds also can be used by local education agencies to improve the educational achievement of disadvantaged students through the arts. In the same way, Title II Teacher Quality Enhancement Grants can address the professional development needs of teachers of the arts, and portions of Title II funds can support partnerships that include nonprofit, cultural-arts organizations.

The arts also can be an important part of learning and enrichment in programs supported by 21st Century Community Learning Centers program funds. Before- and after-school, weekend, and summer programs are excellent opportunities to stimulate students' artistic interests and foster their growth or to integrate arts learning with other subjects, including reading and math. Cultural partners in the community--arts centers, symphonies, theatres, and the like--can offer engaging venues as well as skilled instructors and mentors for students.

Various information about some of the publications available on arts education is enclosed. We are providing this information for your convenience, and you may want to share these resources with your state department or central office staff as well as with your administrators, principals and teachers.

The Value-Added Benefits of the Arts

In keeping with NCLB's principle of classroom practices based on research evidence, studies have shown that arts teaching and learning can increase students' cognitive and social development. The arts can be a critical link for students in developing the crucial thinking skills and motivations they need to achieve at higher levels. Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, a research compendium of the Arts Education Partnership, offers evidence of such links, including connections between arts learning and achievement in reading and math.

Based on a review of data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS: 88), University of California-Los Angeles researchers determined that students who were highly involved in arts instruction earned better grades and performed better on standardized tests. They also performed more community service, watched fewer hours of television, reported less boredom in school and were less likely to drop out of school. These findings were also true for students from the lowest socioeconomic status quartile of the 25,000 students surveyed, belying the assumption that socioeconomic status, rather than arts engagement, contributes to such gains in academic achievement and social involvement. As mentioned in the enclosure, a summary of these and other findings in Critical Links can be accessed at the Arts Education Partnership's website at:

For both the important knowledge and skills they impart and the ways in which they help students to succeed in school and in life, the arts are an important part of a complete education. As we work together to implement NCLB, let's ensure that all children have the opportunity to learn and to grow in and through the arts.

Sincerely, Rod Paige
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Article Details
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Author:Paige, Rod
Publication:American Music Teacher
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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