Common Core Standards & the Arts

I just finished reading the March issue of Educational Leadership published by ASCD. The March issue deals with “What do students need to learn?” in the context of the Common Core State Standards. The two articles I underlined were by Grant Wiggins and David J. Ferrero.

Grant Wiggins is probably best known for being the co-author, with Jay McTighe, of Understanding By Design. In his article titled “A Diploma Worth Having” he makes the statement: ” There’s only one valid measure of the high school curriculum: How well does it prepare students for their adult lives?”

Here’s an excerpt:

Think about it: We are on the verge of requiring every student in the United States to learn two years of algebra that they will likely never use, but no one is required to learn wellness or parenting.

The current standards movement, for all its good intentions, is perilously narrowing our definition of education, to the great harm of not only students but also entire fields of study: the arts, the technical arts and trades, and the social sciences. Gone are excellent vocational programs—as powerfully described by Matthew Crawford in Shop Class as Soul Craft (Penguin, 2010), arguably the best book on education in the last five years. Threatened are visual arts, theater, music, and dance programs despite their obvious value. Indeed, there are more musicians in this country than mathematicians, but you would never know it from the work of standards committees.

Not Which Standards, but Whose Standards
At a meeting many years ago, I heard Ted Sizer respond to a proponent of national standards, “It’s not which standards, it’s whose standards!” In other words, don’t make this sound so objective. It’s a political determination, made by whoever has a seat at the table.

You should be able to read the whole article at:

David J. Ferrero is a senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and serves on the board of directors for the DC Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative in Washington, D.C.

“The Humanities: Why Such a Hard Sell?” is the title of his article.

The relevance of the humanities rests on a broader understanding of humanism, an orientation toward teaching and learning that goes beyond workforce competency and credentialing to encompass personal and civic dimensions of life. If educators take seriously the ideal of the whole child, we’ll need to work to preserve and perpetuate that humanistic spirit. Just don’t expect a lot of policy support for it.

Ferrero states that the Common Core State Standards “were developed out of a preoccupation with competitiveness and credentials. But a careful reading of the standards for the English language arts suggests that the architects consciously designed them to allow for legitimate diversity of aims and breadth of content.”

One such tool for working out these details is the set of curriculum maps developed by the coincidentally named Common Core, a nonprofit organization established in 2007 that is unrelated to the Common Core State Standards project.

Working in collaboration with teachers and content experts, Common Core the organization uses Common Core standards to create curricular units—six per grade for grades K–12— that tie rich humanities content to the standards. The online resources at include outlines, pacing guides, sample assessments, recommended works and artifacts, and other resources. The site includes a 5th grade unit called Clues to a Culture, which “focuses on clues to Native American nations/ cultures as revealed through pairings of literature and informational text,” . . .

I looked at several of the units on the Common Core site and thought, “Boy would I like to go back to school and be in a classroom that taught this!” The 5th grade “Clues to a Culture” referenced above has stories, poems, a speech, informational texts, art, and music examples from several tribes. The note at the beginning says, “The list of Native American nations below is illustrative—not comprehensive; please choose a local nation to examine in a similar manner.”

I encourage you to check out the curriculum maps on the Common Core site above. To read Ferrero’s whole article go here:

12 thoughts on “Common Core Standards & the Arts

  1. I note that one of the comments on Wiggins’ piece (on-line at questions the absence of the learning of languages other than English among the new standards.

  2. Core Standards for the Arts are currently being written in a collaborative effort from all the major arts education associations. I have written a brief summation of their work thus far.

    The official wikispace for the coalition is found at

    I am curious as to how many states are aware of these Arts Standards and how many are prepared to adopt them. I am in Kentucky and I am pretty sure we will adopt them immediately. Our Arts & Humanities Consultant at the KY Dept of Ed is following the process very closely and we have a Kentuckian, Phil Shepherd, on the writing committee.

  3. Oh, I am sorry I didn’t see those posts. I was doing a Google search to find anyone else talking about the new standards and this post is what came up. I didn’t find much in my search. I am still curious as to how many states are aware and ready to adopt these standards when they are finished. I am anxious to see the draft scheduled to be released in July.

  4. Rebecca,
    I assume you are in Kentucky, and if that’s a correct assumption you might want to contact Rachel Allen, the Arts Education Director at the Kentucky Arts Council. She may have a sense of what other states’ plans are for the new national arts standards and if not she is on a listserve with all the other state arts agencies’ arts ed folks around the country and could inquire about their plans. – Beck

  5. Greetings, I am finding it difficult to find any info and/or resource that speaks specifically of where the visual/studio arts are currently in the common core standards. I am hearing that even in studio art programs common core will be mandated by administrators of school that are adopting it. I teach in a parochial high school and we were educated briefly about the cc but only in relation to english and math. As we are all revising syllabi this year, I have not found anything anywhere that is a concrete statement about how to implement the cc in the visual arts. My NYSATA 2002 copy of their curriculum opens with the title “Visual Arts Common Core…”. I know the arts standards are being reviewed and rewritten but will this reflect cc? In the meantime where are the arts cc standards now? Thanks very much!

  6. Toni,

    First, I need to say I am not expert on things Common Core. I am also on the outside looking in and trying to figure out what it all means for arts education in our schools.

    In terms of “hearing that even in studio art programs common core will be mandated” I suggest you look at this post which is all I know about the connection of the Common Core Standards for English-language and “technical subjects” – and art is specifically mentioned in the definition of technical subjects.

    I assume you are aware of the wiki the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards has: You can see their timeline here but unfortunately there does not seem to be a way to leave them questions.

    Perhaps the National Art Education Association has more answers –


  7. In my twenty years of teaching, the problem I have with teaching art and the language of art is — common core in the area of a design chart that includes elements and principles that we all agree on or agree to disagree on yet, accept. I teach elements as tools and principles as rules. It would be nice to have perspective be a principle. The reason I want specific elements and principles is so that we can have assessments that are fair to all the students not just a select few. The language of art should be understood by the art teachers. The visual representation of the principles should also be equally understood. I feel unity should not be a element or a principle but the xpression of the elements and principles working well together as a whole.
    Cynthia Gail

  8. Pingback: Music Common Core Curriculum Maps

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