Arts and the Adoption of Common Core in Montana

On November 4, 2011 the Montana Board of Public Education officially adopted the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts and Math. Due to its unique constitutional requirement, Montana is the only state to incorporate Indian Education for All into the new standards for English Language Arts and Math.

The next week I received an email from a high school teacher who teaches one of the performing arts.

Can you read through this stuff and either call me the villain, or educate me on how this is going to make my job of encouraging the next generation of Artists to be what our culture needs?  If not can the arts council through the NEA make a statement that will help us to see the arts not as a “technical subject” but as a core area of human thought and interaction.

Disturbed to the “Core”

This was triggered by an email from the district administration saying:

Yes, the Fine Arts is in the category of “Technical Subjects” specifically defined in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  . . . .  I plan to review at our meeting how basically all subjects who have a specific content vocabulary, like the Fine Arts, are considered “Technical Subjects” within the CCSS requirements.

What I shared with the teacher is the following:

P21 Common Core Toolkit: A Guide to Aligning the Common Core State Standards with the Framework for 21st Century Skills – see page 35 – arts are listed as a core subject here

You also might take a look at the 21st Century Skills Arts Map

FAQs re Common Core from

Why are the Common Core State Standards for just English-language arts and math?
English-language arts and math were the first subjects chosen for the common core state standards because these two subjects are skills, upon which students build skill sets in other subject areas. They are also the subjects most frequently assessed for accountability purposes.

Of course, other subject areas are critical to young people’s education and their success in college and careers. However, the NGA Center and CCSSO will not be developing standards in other subjects and are now focusing on implementing the standards in ELA and mathematics.

Technical subjects – A course devoted to a practical study, such as engineering, technology, design, business, or other workforce-related subject; a technical aspect of a wider field of study, such as art or music  (p. 43 of Appendix A of Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects)

So I would say from the above information that “technical subjects” only refer to “technical aspects” of an arts course. This doesn’t mean the arts are technical subjects they are just included in that section of the English language arts or math common core. So perhaps your course or section on (xyz) will need to be aware of the requirements for “technical subjects” but that isn’t the definition of the whole study of (xyz) in high school. It doesn’t have anything to do with other aspects of (your discipline.)

Why the parenthesis and the general reference to the teacher who wrote to me?  
“I can probably get fired for sharing this info, . . . .” Whether this is true or not this arts specialist and surely others feel betrayed and vulnerable. What will they be teaching in their courses – a rigorous study of a centuries-old art form or will they just be a hand maiden to English language arts and math?

As the NORC Report on the Teaching artist Research Project states, “This is certainly a challenging moment for education in America. After three decades of effort to improve schools, three decades in which arts education has substantially declined, there has been too little progress in too few schools, particularly those serving low-income children. Now the recession has imposed harsh new constraints on school budgets. Arts education will continue withering in American schools if policymakers are unwilling to rethink the strategies that have dominated school reform. Or it could become a focus of bold new efforts to develop valuable resources that engage students, deepen learning, and enliven school cultures.” pp17-18

I don’t think the requirement that “technical subjects” address the Common Core Standards is a dire condemnation. I think there are tough times ahead for arts education in K-12 schools and I think we are “creative/innovative problem solvers” who will meet the challenge with style and grace.

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