Arts and Geography Panels Release Draft Standards
Scheduled at one point to wrap up their work last week, the panels developing voluntary national academic standards for the arts and for geography have decided to delay final approval of their recommendations.
In the meantime, however, both panels have released the most complete drafts to date of new academic standards for their disciplines. The documents lay out in varying degrees of detail what students should be expected to know and be able to do in those subjects in grades K-4, 5-8, and 9-12.
"The stakes have been raised for these standards now,'' said A. Graham Down, the president of the Council for Basic Education and the chairman of the steering committee that is guiding the arts-standards project. "This is much more complicated than when we started this job 18 months ago.''
Of the two standards groups, the arts panel is closest to completing its work.
Its draft standards encompass four distinct disciplines within the arts: dance, music, theater, and visual arts.
They state, for example, that by the time they leave school, students should be able to write and answer 25 questions about dancers from eras earlier than the 20th century, to compose music in several distinct styles, and to classify specific works of art as belonging to particular cultures, times, and places.
Over all, they call for a more comprehensive, sequential, and ambitious form of arts instruction than is currently available in most schools.
"There's a major difference between what's recommended and what currently exists,'' said Libby Chiu, the director of Institutional Advancement for the Boston Conservatory and a member of the arts panel.
The draft standards do not recommend how much time schools should spend on the arts. But they point out that national professional groups in arts fields recommend devoting 15 percent of elementary school instructional time to arts education. At higher levels, the groups say, separate, required arts courses may be needed.
Containing 99 standards in all, the current arts draft is more streamlined than earlier versions. (See Education Week, Aug. 4, 1993.)
Some of the jargon associated with the subject area also has been cut out or defined in a glossary.
And, in response to concerns from music teachers, standards-setters have lowered their expectations slightly for students in that area. Rather than suggesting, as a previous draft had, that 4th-grade students should be able to compose and arrange music in a variety of styles, the draft now says simply that children at that grade level should be able to compose and arrange music.
The arts-standards group had planned to turn its completed standards over to the U.S. Education Department on Jan. 31. But department officials asked the panel to delay formally releasing them until March.
That request came because the Clinton Administration's proposed "goals 2000: educate America act'' has not yet been passed by Congress.
The bill would establish a new panel to set criteria for national subject-area standards and to approve them.
Moreover, a national panel of experts only recently developed the first criteria for what national standards should look like. (See Education Week, Nov. 24, 1993.)
At a meeting last week in Reston, Va., the arts group decided to use the delay to fine-tune the standards and to review them once more at its final meeting on Jan. 31.
One panel member argued unsuccessfully that more time is needed.
"It's almost good enough, but it's not as good as we can do,'' said Gordon M. Ambach, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. "You don't get any sense of how these standards are constructed into a full program of the arts.''
The national panel that is setting benchmarks for student learning in geography, which was scheduled to meet last Friday, has requested a somewhat longer extension for its work. Project directors asked the Education Department to extend the project until next September and to provide roughly $120,000 more.
"The meat is there,'' said Anthony R. DeSouza, the executive director of the Geography Education Standards Project. "There's some jolly good content standards there, but I think we need to do some pruning.''
Like the draft arts standards, the 18 geography standards call for a broader, more comprehensive treatment of the subject than schools have traditionally offered.
Rather than simply ask students to memorize state capitals, for example, the new standards suggest that teachers encourage students to think about why a river or a city is located where it is, what the consequences of its being there are, and how it is connected to the rest of the world. And the draft says that students should "do'' as well as know geography.
"Place location is like learning to spell,'' said Ruth Shirey, a project director and a professor of geography at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. "It's a beginning point, but no one thinks good English education is learning to spell.''
At 250 pages, the new version of the geography standards is longer than the last draft. (See Education Week, Aug. 4, 1993.)
But previous versions included only performance standards describing what students should be able to do; content standards have since been added.
More 'User Friendly'
The current geography standards are also peppered with brief illustrations of good instruction. In addition, they describe the performance of students who are "aspiring to standard,'' "at standard,'' or "beyond standard.''
Both features were added in order to make the document more "user friendly,'' said Norman Bettis, a geography professor at Illinois State University and a co-chairman of the geography-standards steering committee.
"The teacher doesn't have to be solely on their own in making subjective judgments about what is at standard or above standard,'' he said.
Geography and the arts are two of eight subjects for which the federal government is helping to fund the development of standards. The efforts stem in part from one of the national education goals adopted in 1990, which calls for American students to meet "world class'' standards in major academic areas.
The geography-standards project is being funded jointly by the Education Department, the National Geographic Society, and the National Endowment for the Humanities at a total cost of about $700,000 to $800,000.
The $1 million arts-standards effort is being supported by the Education Department, the humanities endowment, and the National Endowment for the Arts.