Riley Hails Arts Standards as Key Ingredient in Reform

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Hailing the arts as a way to keep children "hooked'' into education, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley this month lauded the first set of national standards to be developed with federal support.

The voluntary guidelines, which were drafted by a consortium of arts-education groups, outline what all students should know and be able to do in dance, music, theater, and the visual arts. (See Education Week, March 9, 1994.)

The arts is one of seven subject areas for which the government has funded standards-setting efforts.

"The process of studying and creating art in all of its distinct forms defines, in many ways, those qualities that are at the heart of education reform in the 1990's--creativity, perseverance, a sense of standards, and above all, a striving for excellence all the time,'' Mr. Riley said.

He spoke at an event organized here by some of the arts groups involved in drafting the standards, which were formally presented to him at the gathering.

The event also included a performance by the Fabulous Flying Fingers, a chorus of 5th graders from the Barnsley Elementary School in Rockville, Md.--some of whom are deaf or hearing-impaired--who sing and sign simultaneously. Their participation reflected a key tenet underlying the standards: that all children, regardless of their backgrounds, should be competent in the arts.

These standards "tell us to aim high, to have high expectations, and to encourage our children to make the effort,'' Mr. Riley said.

Seeking Public Support

Despite the euphoria of the occasion, though, members of the consortium acknowledged that the most difficult part of their task lies ahead--persuading states and school districts to adopt the high standards for a subject that many consider a luxury.

"That probably is the fundamental question,'' said Paul Lehman, a member of the task force that wrote the music standards.

John J. Mahlman, the executive director of the Music Educators National Conference, said a grassroots effort, as well as teamwork by local organizations of arts supporters, teachers, and music educators, would be required to raise the quality of arts education.

"The most important point is that right now, the arts standards are an option that can improve education and children's ability to learn in this country,'' Mr. Mahlman said. "If Americans want to exercise that option, they'll have to effectively advocate for change.''

Mr. Riley said the inclusion of the arts as a "core subject'' in the proposed "goals 2000: the educate America act'' would help sell the public on supporting the arts.

The Secretary also said the Goals 2000 legislation, which is nearing final approval by Congress, would also spur dissemination of the standards as states agree to adopt them in return for education-reform grants.

"People are ready,'' Mr. Riley said. "I think the window is cracked open for some really exciting progress in education.''

Copies of the standards are available for $15 each, plus $3 shipping, from the Music Educators National Conference, 1806 Robert Fulton Dr., Reston, Va., 22091; (800) 336-3768.

Vol. 13, Issue 26

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