In 2017, it is fair to say that arts education is in flux. Though the Every Student Succeeds Act includes the arts as part of a “well-rounded education,” arts education has often gotten squeezed out of school budgets. Despite this, many schools have found ways to keep the arts an active part of the school week (including one of EdWeek’s 2016 Leaders to Learn From, who has made sure that more than 90 percent of Boston’s public school students have access to the arts.)
While most educators agree that the arts are important for students, the ways in which they should be incorporated into the school day, as well as how (or if) we should measure their impact on learning, are continued sources of debate. Research around the scientific evidence of the benefits of the arts for students is also mixed. (And educators have been wrestling with these questions for years: Education Week also tackled the role of the arts in schools in a 2014 special package.)
How can teachers navigate this terrain? In a new special report by Education Week Commentary, a handful of researchers, professors, and practitioners discuss what they think is next for arts education. Here are a few highlights:
STEAM vs. STEM: Should Arts Be Included in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math?
Jay Greene, a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, argues that STEAM’s interdisciplinary focus places too much pressure on teachers to be experts in multiple fields and to know how to effectively teach all the subjects together. Instead, he says, “arts advocates need to make the positive case for what arts education teaches, not hide behind the skirts of math and science.”
But arts-integration specialist Susan Riley says that STEAM isn’t just a matter of inserting the arts into science and math curricula. It’s about using the arts to guide students’ “inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking"—all skills they’re going to need in the future. It’s important for teachers to give students a solid foundation in both STEM and arts education before helping them apply those skills together, she writes.
How Can Educators Assess the Arts?
While assessing the arts can be difficult, finding effective ways to do so can help teachers strengthen their creative teaching practices and make curricula more consistent.
Former classroom teacher Emily Gasoi and consultant Sonya Robbins Hoffmann meet with teachers to figure out what it is they want students to learn through arts subjects. Then, they find ways to make that learning more cohesive across classrooms, which can help teachers develop and evaluate their curriculum. In an essay, they share their takeaways to help other educators measure learning in the arts.
Researchers Are Mixed on the Arts’ Academic Impact
The arts don’t have as much impact on higher academic achievement as some researchers think—but they do teach important habits, say two researchers who work in psychology and education. It’s less about test scores when it comes to justifying the arts and more about general benefits for students: The arts teach children how to envision, express, observe, and reflect, to imagine multiple solutions to problems, and to be persistent.
At the same time, arts-integrated teaching shows some advantages in helping students remember academic content—and we need to keep testing it, says Mariale Hardiman, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education who also provides professional development for teachers.
Though she knows some teachers worry that using the arts to teach other content might make it challenging to cover other required curricula effectively, especially for low-performing students, she and a team of researchers found that arts-integrated science units helped students retain the information better in the long run, compared with regular units.
Read the full report for more: Arts Education: A Look Ahead.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.