By Christopher Woodside
Maintaining the definition of core academic subjects, including "the arts," in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is fundamental to orchestrating success for all students. For the benefit of our children and our nation's future, we need schools to offer experiences that develop competencies in creating, performing, and responding. We need schools to foster creativity, which helps drive our economy. We need schools to instruct students in how to perform, both musically, and on the job. And we need schools to teach students how to respond to one another, their culture and the world around them. Music programs in our schools foster all of these skills, help to develop the complete individual and provide the balanced curriculum that students deserve. As such, the National Association for Music Education strongly urges Congress to maintain core academic subjects, including the arts, in the reauthorization of ESEA.
The arts were first listed as a core subject in the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, and, again, as part of NCLB in 2002. These policies advanced access to school music in three key ways:
1. The inclusion of "the arts" in national law created a touchstone that teachers, principals, administrators, and parents could understand and refer to in support of these programs. "The arts as core" became a national and local rallying cry for advocates, and, since that time, teachers from coast to coast have shared countless stories with NAfME about the value proposition of having the arts "listed" in law, as it pertains to advocating for their programs. The evidence from the field is indisputable.
2. Recent research, undertaken by Dr. Kenneth Elpus, Assistant Professor of Music Education at the University of Maryland, suggests that the inclusion of the arts among the federally designated core subjects enumerated in Goals 2000 in the mid-1990s likely led to an increase in the adoption of arts-related graduation requirements at the state level. Graduation requirements are a significant indicator of the availability of school music programs, nationally, and also help to ensure access to these experiences for all students.
3. Most importantly, the core academic subjects' provision of NCLB serves to offer protection for students struggling in other academic areas, from being pulled out of music classes, in favor of remedial education. The current law includes language which places emphasis on the value of extending classroom time for students dealing with such circumstances, rather than stripping them of equally meaningful learning experiences in music and other well-rounded subjects. Without this guidance language, students who stand to gain the very most from school music programs would be more vulnerable to losing access to them entirely.
The benefits of listing the arts as core demonstrate the importance of recognizing our nation's education priorities at the federal level. The elimination of core academic subjects from ESEA would jeopardize national efforts to ensure that all students, regardless of race or economic status, have access to high quality school music programs. As a community of music advocates, we must engage with Congress to urge the inclusion of music in federal statute so as to avoid a heightened risk of program reduction.
Christopher Woodside is the assistant executive director of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME).
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