President's Committee Makes Strongest Case Ever for Arts Education

By John M. Eger | Posted 5/11/11 | Updated 3/15/22

May 6, 2011, will go down as a landmark in the history of Arts Education.

On this day the President's Committee on The Arts and Humanities released a report at the Art Education Partnership (AEP) Conference, called "Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America's Future Through Creative Schools."

It unveiled the President's thinking about the important connection between art and culture and creativity and innovation, and promised an agenda for reinventing education in America. It is a landmark in new thinking that should set the stage for meaningful debate, discussion and hopefully, reform.

No doubt Obama was the first candidate for election to the Presidency to have an art and humanities plank. Early on he championed the idea that, "To remain competitive in the global economy, America needs to reinvigorate the kind of creativity and innovation that has made this country great. To do so, we must nourish our children's creative skills. In addition to giving our children the science and math skills they need to compete in the new global context, we should also encourage the ability to think creatively that comes from a meaningful arts education."

As President, he filled cabinet level positions with people who saw the arts as he did, and he appointed some of the best and brightest to his high level art and humanities committee.

But the fruits of these appointments and the President's long held view of the arts and America's economic prosperity interests are now becoming apparent in this report, the culmination of 18 months of research, meetings with stakeholders, and site visits all over the country. The report represents an in-depth review of the current condition of arts education, including an update of the current research base about arts education outcomes, and an analysis of the challenges and opportunities in the field that have emerged over the past decade.

It also includes a set of recommendations to federal, state and local policymakers. Specifically it makes five recommendations:

1. Build collaborations among different approaches.

The PCAH urges leaders of professional associations to work with federal and state agencies to build and demonstrate connections among different educators in the arts: art specialists working on standards-based approaches; classroom teachers trained in arts integration; and project-based teaching artists. The PCAH believes that collaborations among national leadership organizations should move beyond internal debates in the arts education field about modes of delivery of arts instruction in order to address the more pressing issues of equitable access and infusing more schools with a creativity-rich environment.

2. Develop the field of arts integration.

The second recommendation focuses on an expansion of arts integration. The PCAH encourages further development of the field of arts integration through strengthening teacher preparation and professional development, targeting available arts funding, and setting up mechanisms for sharing ideas about arts integration through communities of practice. In this recommendation we identify roles for regional and state arts and education agencies as well as private funders.

3. Expand in-school opportunities for teaching artists.

We strongly believe that working artists in this country represent an underutilized and underdeveloped resource in increasing the quality and vitality of arts education in our public schools. The PCAH recommends expanding the role of teaching artists, in partnership with arts specialists and classroom teachers, through sustained engagements in schools. This should include supporting high quality professional development in pedagogy and curriculum. We see an opportunity for leadership in this from the regional and state arts agencies, as well as a national service program similar to the "Artists Corps" idea articulated in President Obama's Arts Policy Campaign platform.

4. Utilize federal and state policies to reinforce the place of arts in K-12 education.

This recommendation focuses on the need for federal and state education leaders to provide policy guidance for employing the arts to increase the rigor of curriculum, strengthen teacher quality, and improve low-performing schools. Building capacity to create and innovate in our students is central to guaranteeing the nation's competiveness. To do this it is necessary for federal and state governments to move beyond merely "allowing" the arts as an expenditure of a comprehensive education.

5. Widen the focus of evidence gathering about arts education.

Finally, while the evidence base for the benefits of the arts is compelling, there is room to expand systematic data gathering about the arts, specifically in developing creativity and enhancing engagement in school. Educators need practical tools to measure the progress of student learning in the arts — an investment that dovetails with the federal education agency's investments in more authentic assessments of complex learning. From a federal perspective, policymakers should help stakeholders make informed arguments and decisions regarding impact and equitable access. This requires policies that support ongoing data gathering about available opportunities, including teacher quality, resources, and facilities at the local and state level.

Not everyone sees the Arts as the answer to economic prosperity, and in Washington, D.C. the differences in viewpoints become a matter of contention at the outset of any issue regardless of the merits.

But this no longer is the case. This is the strongest argument ever made about the vital role of the arts and education.

©2011 John M. Eger. All rights reserved.

John M. EgerJohn M. Eger, Professor Emeritus at San Diego State University is an internationally known author and lecturer on the subjects of creativity and innovation, telecommunications and economic development. ...