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Keeping Art Alive Under NCLB


While nothing in the No Child Left Behind Act says schools must eliminate the arts to concentrate on math and reading, arts instruction has shrunk or vanished in many schools since the law was passed. Arts advocates say the arts are critical to a complete education. Included: Information about supporting arts instruction.

Even though the arts are considered a core academic subject by the U.S. Department of Education, arts education under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act has been restructured, reduced, and eliminated, to the detriment of U.S. students, according to advocates for arts education, including Americans for the Arts.

Since currently only student performance in mathematics and reading are measured under NCLB -- although science tests are coming -- studies show schools are cutting back on time spent on other subjects to devote more minutes to math and reading, arts advocates say. A report from the Center on Education Policy, From the Capital to the Classroom: Year 4 of the No Child Left Behind Act, indicated that a majority of school leaders reported achievement gains under NCLB, but 71 percent also reported reducing time in at least one other subject to increase reading and math instructional time.

Nina Ozlu

While NCLB's reauthorization has been stalled, members of Americans for the Arts are determined to keep arts in the national spotlight. The group's report, The Impact of the Latest Federal Education Legislation on the Arts outlines to policymakers the benefits of arts education. Nina Ozlu, chief counsel for Americans for the Arts, testified about the need for increased arts education and funding before the NCLB Commission gathering information as part of NCLB's reauthorization process.

Ozlu took time to talk with Education World during National Arts and Humanities Month (NAHM) about her concerns about the status of arts' education under NCLB.

Education World: How would you describe the state of arts education under the No Child Left Behind Act?

Nina Ozlu: A child's education is not complete unless it includes the arts. In spite of the arts being named a core academic subject under NCLB, access to arts education in our schools is eroding. A report from the Center for Education Policy concludes that, since the enactment of NCLB, 22 percent of school districts surveyed have reduced instructional time for art and music. We believe this is because preparation for math and reading testing is commanding more and more time in the school day.

"A child's education is not complete unless it includes the arts."

EW: What were some concerns you raised to the commission?

Ozlu: Besides the issue mentioned before about the erosion of both time and money to teach arts education in the classroom, we also spoke about how the arts can help close the achievement gap by leveling the "learning field," especially in high-poverty schools; we discussed how arts education can help to retain teachers by transforming schools with an infusion of arts into the curriculum.

Lastly, we called on the commission to join education leaders in Congress by directing the U.S. Department of Education to fulfill its research obligations and administer the Fast Response Survey System (FRSS) and the NAEP in arts education -- these are essential measures that will help guide education policy decisions.

EW: What has been the response from the commission and other federal officials to your concerns?

Ozlu: The commissioners asked some good follow-up questions, and requested further information on our recommendations. We hope they will include our recommendations into their final report.

The federal support has been limited. While the Arts in Education program continues to support innovative models, the [Bush] administration attempts to zero it out in the budget each year. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, like Secretary Rod Paige before her, has issued statements of support for arts education, but the budgets have not included funding for the national program.

"In spite of the arts being named a core academic subject under NCLB, access to arts education in our schools is eroding."

EW: How, if at all, can arts education be retooled to better mesh with accountability demands?

Ozlu: I think the question should be: How can arts education compete with the subjects that are assessed? Because of challenges for public education administrators and teachers inherent in NCLB, many subjects are losing resources and time during the school day. High quality learning in and through the arts should be accessible to all students. Americans for the Arts is working at various levels to employ diverse strategies that bring arts learning to all students. Among these strategies is a national PSA campaign encouraging parents to "ask for more" arts education for their children, and to support innovative arts integration programs.

EW: What advice do you have for teachers who are trying to fit arts instruction into their curricula?

Ozlu: To meet this important expectation for our students, state, district and building leaders are employing a number of creative strategies, the most common of which are: professional development in arts integration (teaching various subject matter through incorporation of art objects, arts practice and arts cognition), district or state level requirements to ensure federal mandates aren't the only benchmark for quality in local education, and community arts partnerships, which enrich student arts participation, engage teachers, and revitalize struggling schools.

This e-interview with Nina Ozlu is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2008 Education World

Originally published 10/11/2006; updated 10/10/2008