Arts Education continues to face serious challenges. Despite model programs, studies, and research that demonstrate the value of arts learning, national education policies and budget constraints continue to put arts education programs at risk of being reduced or eliminated.
Although the arts were named as a core academic subject in the 2001 federal law, The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, No Child Left Behind Act, the Center for Education Policy reported in 2006 that 22 percent of school districts surveyed had reduced instructional time for the arts to make more time for math and reading—the subjects that are tested. Keeping the arts in the school day is one of today’s critical advocacy challenges.
As school systems across the country face funding challenges and budget cuts, arts education programs are among the first to be threatened or eliminated. Many schools are forced to choose among a music teacher, visual arts teacher, librarian, guidance counselor, or nurse on staff. Many districts resort to asking communities to pass levies to help ease the financial burdens they face. Finding funding for arts education programs is another critical advocacy issue.
At the same time that school districts are reducing or eliminating arts education programs, a December 2007 national poll of American voters, indicated that 80 percent of the respondents felt it was important or extremely important for schools to develop students’ imagination, innovation, and creative skills. In addition, 88 percent said the arts were essential for doing so and were a sound educational investment (see full report at www.theimaginenation.net).
Despite these challenges, successful arts education programs are thriving in some communities across the country. Where arts programs thrive, students are learning in the arts with high engagement, expressing ideas in a variety of arts languages, and engaging in creative and reflective work. We also see students learning through the arts—meeting objectives in both an art form and another subject area and constructing and demonstrating understanding in highly creative and personal ways. But quality arts programs don’t thrive on their own. One of the keys to their success has been the active involvement of arts advocates with a powerful and strategic message.
What does it mean to be an arts education advocate? According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, an “advocate” is “one that pleads the cause of another; one that supports or promotes the interests of another.” Arts education advocacy pleads the cause for young people across the nation to have the opportunity to learn in and through the arts.
Arts education advocates know that the only way even strong arts learning programs can survive is when advocates actively promote their cause. Advocates help make the program’s value and impact understood and supported by all stakeholders—from parents, to community leaders, to school district administrators, to state legislators, federal policy-makers, and others.
Now more than ever, the challenges facing arts education must be met. Arts education advocates who work at the community, state, and national levels must act to promote the value of arts learning for all young people.
The Ohio Alliance for Arts Education's advocacy agenda outlines goals and objectives to improve arts education in Ohio for all students. The goals call for the OAAE to take a leadership role to achieve the following:
* Goal 1: The arts are included in Ohio's "core" curriculum.
* Goal 2: All students have access to quality arts education programs.
* Goal 3: The arts are included in statewide efforts to improve student achievement.
Take advantage of work already being done for arts education advocacy by becoming involved with a network of parents, professionals, and artists who are currently involved in advocacy efforts.
The OAAE Advocacy Network consists of:
- OAAE Executive Committee
- the Advocacy Committee of the OAAE Board of Directors
- grassroots support in schools and communities.
Members of the Advocacy Committee represent each region of the state and work with colleagues, parents, and members of community, business, and arts organizations to advocate for arts education. These regional advocates makeup the grassroots support for the OAAE. The OAAE staff supports the Advocacy Network by providing information and technical assistance. The purpose of the Advocacy Network is to maximize grassroots response to an issue, so that decision-makers are informed and responsive to OAAE concerns.
What do you need to advocate?
A MESSAGE: Know what you want to accomplish. Make your message clear and direct. Use the OAAE Advocacy Goals to align your message with others in Ohio.
INFORMATION OR SUPPORTING FACTS: Know the background information and the impact of your message. Use Arts on Line and the OAAE resources to stay informed.
OPPORTUNITY: Know when, where and how to advocate. Create opportunities by networking and meeting with policy-makers.
PERSISTENCE: Don’t give up. Advocacy is an ongoing process. There will be setbacks, but the players are always changing so everyday is a new opportunity.
What is your comfort level for advocacy?
LEVEL I – The Average Arts Education Advocate is:
- Shares information
- Makes “comfortable” contacts with policy-makers
LEVEL II – The Advanced Arts Education Advocate is:
- Makes contact with policy-makers
- Responds to advocacy alerts
- Volunteers to support arts education
LEVEL III – The WOW Arts Education Advocate is:
- Accepts a leadership advocacy role
- Recruits advocates
- Testifies on arts education issues
- Works at the national level on arts education issues
How to rate your district's high quality arts education programming
Determine how your district rates. On a scale from 0 to 26 how does your district rate in its support for high quality arts education programs:
0 - does not meet the condition
1 - somewhat meets the condition
2 - meets the condition
The following survey includes the conditions and practices that create and sustain district-wide commitment to high performing arts education programs for all students. These practices were identified in a research study conducted by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and the Arts Education Partnership.
Conditions that Support Arts Education:
_____ 1) Influential segments of the community shape and implement arts education policies and programs.
_____ 2) The board of education sets a supportive policy framework and environment for the arts.
_____ 3) The superintendent articulates a vision for arts education.
_____ 4) The district has implemented a comprehensive arts education program aligned to Ohio’s Fine Arts Learning Standards.
_____ 5) There has been continuity in leadership to implement a comprehensive arts education program.
_____ 6) An arts education coordinator facilitates district-wide programs and support for arts education.
_____ 7) School principals support district policies for arts education for all students.
_____ 8) Policies and practices support professional development for teachers of the arts.
_____ 9) District leaders develop relationships with parents and community to ensure support for arts education.
_____ 10) Strong elementary arts programs create a strong foundation for system-wide arts programs.
_____ 11) Student needs in the arts are met through specialized programs (magnet schools, AP classes, etc.)
_____ 12) District leaders use national and state policies and programs to bolster local support for arts education.
_____ 13) The district promotes reflective practices at all levels to improve quality.
How does your district rate? What does your score tell you?
26 Excellent - You are the best in the state!
20-25 Effective - You are doing much better than most, but have room for improvement.
15-24 Continuous Improvement - There's work to be done, let's get started!
10-14 Arts Academic Watch - Call OAAE for help in getting started with your arts education advocacy plan!
0-13 Arts Academic Emergency - 614.224.1060 - let's set a meeting and get started on a plan to support arts education!
Additional assessment questions:
What leadership skills, policies, resources, and data are needed to improve arts education in your district?
Will your board, superintendent, and administrators make arts education a priority?
What strategies will you use to make arts education a priority in your district?
What can you do to be a district Excellent in Arts Education?
Review your responses and develop some ideas to improve.
What types of leadership, planning, policy changes, resources, data, etc. would be necessary to improve the condition?
Is improving the condition a priority for your district?
The Ohio Legislature
State Board of Education
Search for Legislation:
Meeting Your Legislators
The best way to advocate is to meet face to face with a legislator and discuss the issues. The best way to do this is to make an appointment. This will ensure that the legislator is available and is expecting you. Be on time for the appointment, but don't be surprised if the legislator is late. If the legislator is delayed, take advantage of the opportunity to talk to the legislator's aide or staffer.
Be focused, organized, and prepared on the topic for the meeting. Some suggested “Talking Points” are listed below in the FAQ section. You should also do some preliminary research to find out how the legislator feels about the issue. If the legislator disagrees with your view, agree to disagree. As a constituent you have the right to your own opinions. After the meeting, send a thank you note along as a follow-up of your meeting.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do we mean by arts education?
- Arts education teaches students to use acquired knowledge and skills to respond to works of art (describe, analyze, and interpret), perform existing works in the arts, and create original works in dance, drama/theater, music, and visual arts.
Why should all Ohio students study the arts?
- Education in the arts prepares students for careers in the arts, teaches students how to communicate a message, fosters creativity and innovation, and improves cognitive skills.
- Research also shows that arts education improves student achievement in other disciplines, fosters cultural understanding, improves problems solving skills, and even improves student attendance.
What does research say about arts education and student achievement?
- Current research on brain development shows that early experiences in the arts affects the cognitive development of children.
- There is also evidence that arts education improves student attendance, increases cultural understanding, and increases creative thinking and problems solving skills.
Who supports arts education?
- Many prominent leaders in government, business, and education and all major education organizations including the National PTA, National School Boards Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, and others support arts education.