More than 4,000 art educators gathered in Fort Worth, Texas, early this month to “draw connections to their communities” — the theme of this year’s annual National Art Education Association (NAEA) conference. And what a great way for these P-12 teachers of art, along with museum educators; university professors of art education; and school-, district-, and state-level arts and education administrators to also kick-off the month during which all the arts are recognized for their importance to a well-rounded education — Dance in the Schools Month, Music in Our Schools Month, Theatre in Our Schools Month, and Youth Art Month.
(September 19, 2012) The U.S. Department of Education today awarded a grant of $6,640,000 to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to implement and expand its efforts in arts education and arts integration at the national level. Beginning with the first year of a three-year program, this grant will allow all children access to the life-changing benefits of an arts education.
“The study of the arts can significantly boost student achievement, reduce discipline problems, and increase the odds that students will go on to graduate from college,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Arts education is essential to stimulating the creativity and innovation that will prove critical to young Americans competing in a knowledge-based, global economy.”
Students sit on the floor, attentively listening as the storyteller reads aloud. Several hands shoot up, without further prompting. Students took on the various roles in the story, dramatizing what they were reading and now they are talking about how acting out the story helped them feel the narrative and understand it better. Thoughtful answers to questions are given, prompting more discussion.
This is not just a teacher’s dream, but a real DREAM — the Developing Reading Education with Arts Methods (DREAM) project. Funded through the Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination Grant Program (AEMDD) in OII, the four-year project uses visual arts and theater to teach students about reading and to improve how they read.
The theme of this year’s American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE) conference was “Looking Back and Charging Ahead.” On the one hand, the nearly 400 conference attendees recently gathered in Lexington, Ky., to celebrate the 25 years AATE has served its membership of teachers and teaching artists, postsecondary educators and researchers, youth theatre companies, playwrights, and advocates. The “looking back” portion included a special session at which a number of the association’s past presidents and other leaders shared stories of the quarter-century-long effort to keep the light shining on the importance of drama and theatre for children and youth.
By the time I arrived on the second day of the conference, the emphasis had shifted to the present and future. My task was to share the recent findings of a nationwide survey of the conditions of arts education, one that also offered comparisons of those conditions of arts teaching and learning with data from 1999-2000—prior to the No Child Left Behind Act. My presentation would unfortunately remind attendees that between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of elementary schools offering instruction in drama and theatre had plummeted from 20 percent to four percent. At the secondary level, the drop was less dramatic but sobering just the same—less than half of secondary schools nationwide offered students the opportunity to study theatre. It’s hard to shine a light on what’s not on the stage.
In the past 10 years, the Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD) and Professional Development for Art Educators (PDAE) grant programs have unleashed the creative minds of students, deepened their learning experiences in core academic subjects through arts integration, and enhanced the knowledge and skills of teachers to meet high standards in the arts. Both programs emphasize collaborations between school districts and non-profit organizations that result in a well-rounded education for all students as well as greater student engagement across the curriculum and increased school attendance by both students and teachers. In addition, AEMDD projects, using rigorous evaluation measures, have documented gains in academic achievement by students involved in arts-integrated teaching and learning compared to their peers.