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:

walking a fine line

At my job there is an ongoing rub concerning non-Indian artists teaching lessons on Indian cultures.

I have had two long conversations with the Indian Education Division at the MT Office of Public Instruction (OPI) on this topic. The staff at Indian Education concern is that any statements on this topic not frighten people away from studying Indian cultures. And at the same time they are very leery of non-Indian artists teaching lessons where students are imitating tribal artwork.

Students are given assignments in class to copy the work of artists that are considered masters from United States/European art history. This is seen as a way of learning new skills.

So what’s different about assigning students to copy a Crow doll or a Salish basket? Does what the object is used for in the tribe make a difference? Can an artist assign students to copy a doll that was made for a child to play with but not a doll that was made for a religious ceremony?

What level of study and understanding of the tribe’s culture by the teaching artist is necessary for him/her to present lessons on that culture? How do we teach students to appreciate and respect cultures other than their own that takes into consideration what members of that culture feel is respectful?

I was talking to Alayne Dolson, Executive Director of VSA Montana, about these questions. (VSA Montana promotes the creative power of people with disabilities. ) She said that there are many similarities to the disability community. People are afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing and so often do nothing or just turn a blind eye because it’s too complicated.

The disability community has many resources for the community at large – toolkits, best practices, FAQ’s etc. And there is Alayne on the ground saying, “I understand you live in a very isolated community and this is what you can do with the resources at hand.” She doesn’t demand perfection and helps folks improve accessibility for all – always working toward a vision.

I know the Indian Education Division isn’t demanding perfection. An yet here I sit as the person in state government that funds artist residencies in schools and community organizations that needs to make decisions about these questions. (I have been questioned about residencies we have funded in the past by Indian Education staff.)

I have not found the same kind of resources for this concern that exist for the disability community.

How do you make decisions on these questions?

basketball hoop and ball with white silhouette  hand

Two Eagle River School photography residency with David J. Spear - Photo by Charlene Conko