N.E.A. Panel Seeks Spot for Arts in School-Reform Debate
WASHINGTON--An advisory panel to the National Endowment for the Arts last week took the first stop in a long-range effort to improve the way the arts are taught in public-school classrooms and to introduce discussion of the benefits of arts education into the national dialogue on education reform.
"The arts have been disorganized and are clearly behind the eight-ball in terms of getting into the national goals," said John L. Frohnmeyer, the endowment's chairman, in opening the two-day session of the National Advisory Council on Arts Education.
The 26-member panel, which met for the first time here last week at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, is designed to help fulfill a mandate by the Congress in the endowment's 1990 reauthorization to increase accessibility to the arts through education.
Mr. Frohnmeyer said that as the nation begins to focus on education reform, the arts must be an important element of that debate. Unless that happens, he said, students will become divorced from vital elements of the national culture, resulting in "a progressive degradation of our ability to govern ourselves," he said.
Mr. Frohnmeyer proposed three tasks for the committee to undertake to meet its mandate.
The panel, he said, should concentrate on "how to make the best case for arts education," how to develop tools for carrying those arguments to the public, and how to put those tools to use to get the arts into the curriculum at the local level.
Arts on 'the Edges'
Participants in the discussion noted that although arts education is a thriving enterprise in many public schools, art generally is still divorced from academic learning in the minds of policymakers.
A background paper prepared for conference participants by David O'Fallon, the director of the endowment's Arts in Education program, noted that although systematic efforts to infuse arts appreciation into public-school curricula have existed at least since the mid-1960's, "the arts remain on the edges."
"Too often the art activities are worse off and nearly non-existent in some school systems," the paper stated.
Participants added that the fact that the arts were not specifically mentioned in the national goals adopted by President Bush and the nation's governors reflects, in part, their marginal status among policymakers.
Complicating the effort to move the arts to center stage in the reform debate, the briefing paper says, is the fact that "there is little agreement on what students should know and when they should know it."
One stop that is being taken to correct that dearth of knowledge, Mr.Frohnmeyer noted, is a joint initiative of the endowment and the Education Department to develop questions that will meusure artistic knowledge that can be posed as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
"Since schools tend to teach to what is tested and since state legislatures and local beards tend to take seriously that which can be backed with real data, the assessment is potentially very important," the background paper notes.
Experts in the arts and in education will be invited to develop a consensus on what students in the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades should know about theater, music, dance, and visual arts, Mr. Frohnmeyer said.
The arts assessment could be a part of the NAEP report card as early us 1996, officials said.
Call for a Summit
Another issue of note is the development of a "community-based approach'' to education that would give those outside the arts an opportunity to help improve the quality of art education.
Mr. Frohnmeyer noted that he bus called for a "Summit Conference on Arts and Education"to be held next February to focus on creating a "national agenda for action" in arts education.
That conference is expected to act us a springboard for establishing a relationship between the arts, the national education goals, and the Bush Administration's America 2000 program.
Endowment officials noted that the advisory panel is an important stop toward reaching consensus on methods of infusing arts into the general curriculum because it includes representatives from all sectors of society, including teachers, politicians, college educators, artists, members of state and local arts councils, and the business community.
The panel is chaired by Michael J. Kelly, the chief executive officer of the Illinois-based Kelco Industries.
Mr. Kelly said that business has a vital interest in the committee's goal of "educating the whole student" in order to upgrade the quality of the national workforce.
Mr. Frohnmeyer said the panel's work will continue in subcommittee meetings and at least one more general session over the coming months.
"We haven't actually accomplished anything yet," he said. "But we've certainly set the stage."
Vol. 11, Issue 07, Page 5