Feature: It’s “Déjà Vu All Over Again” for Arts Integration

As Arts in Education Week – September 11-17 – was being observed, arts integration was a hot topic nationally.  Consider these two statements about arts integration:  (1) “Creative teachers have integrated the arts with other subjects for years. During the past decade, however, there has been an upsurge of interest in this approach.”  And, (2), “In recent years, arts integration has … generated a lot of enthusiasm from classroom teachers, school administrators and policy researchers for its ability to produce results.”  These are very similar testaments to the concept of arts integration, but more than three decades separate the two.

The first statement is from “Coming to Our Senses: The Significance of  the Arts for American Education,” a landmark report of a national panel convened by David Rockefeller, Jr. in 1977 to explore the notion that “education” and “the arts” need not be mutually exclusive – that they in fact could be productive partners.  The second is taken from “Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools,” a report of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) released this past May.

While neither report focused exclusively on arts integration, both contained focused discussion of the topic, as noted above, and both called for actions to further the progress of arts integration in schools.  Since the call to action for arts integration almost 35 years ago did not materialize, what might be different now?  Several factors – research-based evidence of the effects of arts integration, a critical mass of promising programs, the availability of technology to replicate or adapt proven practices, and an increased understanding of what arts integration is and is not – are some key differences.

Understanding the effects of arts integration

As pointed out by PCAH, a number of recent studies have “documented significant links between arts integration models and academic and social outcomes for students, efficacy for teachers, and school-wide improvements in culture and climate.”  Two state networks of A+ Schools, which practice a dual role for the arts – as discrete core subjects unto themselves and also as part of the curriculum and instruction of other core subjects – in North Carolina and Oklahoma released longitudinal studies in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

“More than 12 years of research on the A+ Schools in North Carolina,” the PCAH report notes, “tracked consistent gains in student achievement, the schools’ engagement of parents and community, and other measures of learning and success.”  Five years of student achievement and other school performance data collected from the network of more than 35 A+ schools in Oklahoma showed students in A+ Schools outperforming their peers across the state on several standardized measures of the Oklahoma State Report Card.   In both states, the results held true in schools serving higher percentages of minority and economically disadvantaged students.

It is interesting to note that the search for data, including testing results, that could “make the case” for arts integration was also present in the 1977 report.  For instance, the Interdisciplinary Model Program in the Arts for Children and Teachers (IMPACT) in Columbus, Ohio, showed great promise at the end of its pilot period.  According to the evaluation, “students in the project made gains in reading and mathematics and were displaying superior problem-solving ability.” And, curiously like the report of evaluators of the Oklahoma A+ Schools nearly four decades later, “the school climate seemed more positive, and parents had become more supportive of the schools.”

A critical mass of projects and understanding

In addition to A+ Schools networks in North Carolina and Oklahoma, similar statewide networks of schools and districts practicing arts integration exist in a number of other states, including the Arkansas A+ Schools, the Whole Schools in Mississippi; the HOT (Higher-Order Thinking) Schools in Connecticut; ArtsNow in Georgia; and in Maryland, MAIN, a statewide arts integration network.  Additionally, citywide arts integration programs such as Big Thought in Dallas and the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE) have made significant contributions to research-based understandings of how the arts, and arts-integration in particular, effect teaching and learning.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a former schools CEO in Chicago, credits arts-integration practices with contributing to the higher performance of CAPE school students on standardized tests than students who attended schools in Chicago that did not integrate the arts.

Big Thought and CAPE are also among a cadre of more than 100 projects supported by the Department’s Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD) Grants program.  AAEMDD supports projects that teach the arts based on their distinct content and performance standards and also incorporate them as an integrated part of the complete curriculum in grades pre-K to eight.  At an Education Policy Briefing last spring, AEMDD grantees from Jersey City, N.J., and Long Beach, Calif., shared evaluation results of arts-integration strategies that showed substantial gains in math and reading performance by students in “treatment” schools who experienced arts-integrated learning over students in “control” classrooms.

In the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, an arts-integration initiative begun more than a decade ago is gaining national recognition.  Changing Education Through the Arts (CETA), like the A+ Schools networks, is a whole-school reform effort focused on professional development for teachers in arts integration.  Drawing on its CETA efforts, as well as decades of helping teachers learn about and implement arts integration in classrooms nationwide, the Center devised a definition of arts integration that values both deep connections to the arts and connecting arts forms to other subjects to achieve learning objectives in both.  At a national conference this summer, teachers, school administrators, and arts organization representatives from more than 20 states came to the Kennedy Center to learn about CETA and its potential for replication or adaptation beyond the D.C. region.

Another D.C. cultural institution, the Phillips Collection, added to the critical mass with the conference it held this summer to share its arts integration framework, Teaching Through the Prism, with interested art educators.

Awareness of efforts involving arts integration is also growing thanks to the efforts of the Arts Education Partnership (AEP), which semiannually convenes national forums at which research evidence and promising practices and programs are showcased and discussed.  Additionally, AEP’s website and biweekly “Arts Education Digest” disseminate information that not only increases interest in arts integration, but also offers specific resources to guide state and local developments of both policy and practice; prime examples are “Arts Integration Frameworks, Research & Practice: A Literature Review” (2007) and “Creating Quality Integrated and Interdisciplinary Arts Programs” (2002).

Technology to enable replication and adaptation

Following the call-to-action in “Coming to Our Senses” 34 years ago, schools and districts interested in following the example of arts-integration projects and programs touted in the report had only phones and snail mail as the principal means of getting advice and guidance from exemplars.  And, if they were really fortunate, they might have tapped into the National Diffusion Network for federal support for replication of the one or very few arts integration “models” available, such as the Learning to Read Through the Arts program.

Contrast that with today.  ArtsEdge, an online resource for teaching and learning in, through, and about the arts serves more than four million users annually with sample arts-integration lessons and a myriad of other resources from it sponsor, the Kennedy Center’s Education Department, as well as other sources.  Other national arts organizations, including Carnegie Hall’s Online  Resource Center , Young Audiences, and arts education professional associations including the National Art Education Association and National Coalition for Music Education offer a wide range of online resources, specific to both standards-based arts instruction and to arts integration.

As suggested by the PCAH report, there is the need for “one or more communities of practice among model arts integration programs to identify best practices in arts integration, organize curriculum units, bring together training approaches, and create a common frame for collecting evaluation results.”   The Web – and an ever-increasing number of virtual options for establishing communities of practice – is a logical, contemporary answer to this need.

Finding resources for development and scaling up

Arts integration, when done in the manner that the various arts education stakeholders agree is most effective, requires an investment of time, particularly for the professional development of teachers, administrators, and other school staff.  In addition, resources are required for revised curricula and instructional materials in both the arts and general classrooms. And, partnerships between schools and local arts organizations, which also take time and coordination, play a key role in arts-integration models.

At the federal level, the AEMDD program, as noted earlier, provides four-year grants to projects, but competitions for the grants occur only every three to four years. The Department’s i3 Fund is currently supporting three projects in the arts in its development category.  The next round of i3 grants, to be announced in December, is expected to be smaller in number than the 49 projects funded last year due to a smaller appropriation from Congress, but arts education advocates are hopeful that arts and arts-integration projects will be among the new i3 grantees.

In a limited number of instances, federal Title I funds are helping to implement arts-integration programs, but generally arts education practitioners and advocates report frustrations with attempts to tap into the more than $6 billion annually that State departments of education (SDEs) receive in Title I, Part A funds and distribute to local schools and districts.  Reportedly, they are often told that SDEs are prohibited by federal education authorities from supporting arts education activities, despite periodic clarifications to the contrary from the Secretary of Education.  “Under ESEA, states and local districts have the flexibility to support the arts,” Secretary Arne Duncan wrote in an August 2009 letter addressed to local school leaders.  Title I, part A of ESEA, he continued, “funds arts education to improve the achievement of disadvantaged students,” and funds under Title II of ESEA “can be used for professional development of arts teachers as well as for strategic partnerships with cultural, arts, and other nonprofit organizations.”

With state- and local-level education budgets experiencing contractions in most states, schools and districts making do with less are often reluctant to try new approaches.  But this is actually an ideal opportunity to leverage sparse resources to accomplish integrated, more comprehensive approaches.  Accordingly, as increasing numbers of schools fail to make adequate yearly progress under current ESEA regulations, arts education advocates are suggesting a more serious look at arts-integration-whole-school-change models.  At a recent White House “Champions of Change” event, the accomplishments of arts-integration programs such as Big Thought and CAPE were recognized and acknowledged.  Department staff from the School Improvement Grants program attended at the invitation of PCAH as part of their ongoing efforts to examine how the positive effects of arts-integration can be fully brought to bear on overall school improvement efforts.

Time for action

The call for recognition of the importance of the arts in America’s schools issued in “Coming to Our Senses” almost 35 years ago was in response to the “back-to-basics” movement precipitated by the launch of Sputnik.  That same call to international greatness is at the core of PCAH’s current pronouncement to reinvent arts education.  Its charge from President Obama’s Arts Policy Council, established while he was campaigning, called for the need “to reinvigorate the kind of creativity and innovation that has made this country great.”  A reinvestment in arts education is needed to “remain competitive in the global economy” and to “nourish our children’s creative skills.”

Secretary Duncan echoes this national purpose behind PCAH’s call for action on arts education in his foreword to the report.  “The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities explains why American schools are falling short in providing students the opportunity for a well-rounded education and a rich arts education that will prepare them for success in the future.”  More importantly, recognizing that history could easily repeat itself and permit one more arts education national report to go unheeded for years and even decades, Secretary Duncan concludes his message with this:  “I encourage educators, school board members, business, and philanthropic leaders and artists to … see [this report] as a call to action.”