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National Standards Project Designed To Highlight Arts' Role

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WASHINGTON--Surrounded by an elementary-school glee club and children's artwork, officials of three federal agencies last week announced plans to develop "world class'' national standards for student achievement in the arts by 1994.

Slated to receive $250,000 this year, the project will set standards for what students should know and be able to do in four disciplines--dance, theater, the visual arts, and music. It is being funded jointly by the Education Department, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

"I hope the arts will be an important part of the curriculum in every school in America and I hope the arts will be integrated into a variety of subjects in every school in America,'' Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander said in making the announcement June 4.

Mr. Alexander has been criticized during the past year over the failure of national education-reform efforts to recognize arts education. In particular, critics contend that by focusing on only five subjects--English, geography, history, mathematics, and science--President Bush's America 2000 reform program makes it easy for schools to ignore the arts.

Amid such criticism, Mr. Alexander announced plans in March for an America 2000 Arts Partnership intended to strengthen arts education in the nation's schools. The standards project, Mr. Alexander said, is a key element of that strategy, which also calls for a national center on arts education and a network to promote such studies in schools taking part in the America 2000 plan. (See Education Week, March 25, 1992.)

Parallel Efforts

The voluntary standards will be developed by a consortium of national groups active in the arts. Led by John Mahlmann, executive director of the Music Educators National Conference, they include: The American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the National Art Education Association, and the National Dance Association.

Francie M. Alexander, the department's deputy assistant secretary of the office of educational research and improvement, said the standards project will "run parallel'' to efforts already under way to develop national student assessments in the arts. The National Assessment Governing Board at its March meeting voted to begin testing students' grasp of that subject through the 1996 National Assessment for Educational Progress tests.

"People from both groups are working together so there will be some coordination,'' she said.

A 'First Step'

Members of the arts community who are taking part in the standards project said the effort was "a major first step'' toward quelling some of their concerns about the lack of national attention to their field.

While the arts are considered a frill in some schools, most elementary schools teach music and art, according to a 1989 survey by the now-defunct National Arts Education Research Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. But students only spend an average of 50 to 60 minutes each week studying those subjects. Dance is offered in about 7 percent of all elementary schools.

Arts-education proponents said they hope the standards project will increase the amount of time students spend on the arts in school and improve the quality of instruction.

"I don't think it could do anything but help,'' said Rebecca Hutton, direction of the National Dance Association.

The question now, added Thomas Hatfield, executive director of the National Art Education Association, is whether federal efforts to improve arts education will continue.

"I hope this doesn't die after the November elections,'' he added.

The new project is the third attempt by the federal government to support standards-setting in a subject area.

Last fall, the Education Department gave $500,000 to the National Academy of Sciences to oversee standards-setting efforts in science. And, in January, the department and the î.å.è. unveiled a $1.6-million standards project in history.

Mr. Mahlmann said the arts-standards group plans to complete a set of draft standards for widespread review in two to three months.

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