In May 2011, after 18 months of research, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) issued a report called “Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools.” This report outlines findings on the current condition of and recent research about arts education and goes on to identify opportunities to advance the arts education cause. We are very excited to share the findings and recommendations of this report with you because they give awesome validation to Right Brain’s work. We consider it another feather in our cap that we are already working towards the recommendations from the PCAH here in the Portland metro area.
The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, provided the forward to the report and opened with a great quote echoing what Right Brain has been shouting from the rooftops since our program first started in 2008:
“Education in the arts is more important than ever. In the global economy, creativity is essential. Today’s workers need more than just skills and knowledge to be productive and innovative participants in the workforce. Just look at the inventors of the iPhone and the developers of Google: they are innovative as well as intelligent. Through their combination of knowledge and creativity, they have transformed the way we communicate, socialize, and do business. Creative experiences are part of the daily work life of engineers, business managers, and hundreds of other professionals. To succeed today and in the future, America’s children will need to be inventive, resourceful, and imaginative. The best way to foster that creativity is through arts education.”
As we all are aware, the education system in the United States is in crisis. The PCAH report cites startlingly high dropout rates (up to 50% in some areas!), low skill level and preparedness even of those students who do graduate indicating the need to transform what is taught in school, and the decline of school arts programs even while research continually indicates that arts education can successfully reform failing schools.
The exciting benefits of using arts education to transform the education system reported by PCAH include increased student achievement often indicated by better test scores; improved student motivation and engagement evidenced by better attendance statistics, increased persistence and focused attention, and heightened educational aspirations; development of 21st century skills, including problem solving, critical and creative thinking, and collaboration; and the development of social competencies such as self-confidence and empathy. Arts education also narrows the achievement gap for low-income and English language-learning students, leveling the educational playing field.
With all these fantastic benefits in mind, the PCAH issued five recommendations designed to help promote the arts in education:
1. Build collaborations among different approaches to arts education: PCAH urges leaders to build and demonstrate connections among different educators in the arts: art specialists working on standards-based approaches; classroom teachers trained in arts integration; and project-based teaching artists.
2. Develop the field of arts integration: PCAH encourages further development of the field of arts integration through strengthening teacher preparation and professional development, targeting available arts funding, and setting up mechanisms for sharing ideas about arts integration through communities of practice.
3. Expand in-school opportunities for teaching artists: PCAH strongly believes that working artists in this country represent an underutilized and underdeveloped resource in increasing the quality and vitality of arts education in our public schools. PCAH recommends expanding the role of teaching artists, in partnership with arts specialists and classroom teachers, through sustained engagements in schools. This should include supporting high quality professional development in pedagogy and curriculum.
4. Utilize federal and state policies to reinforce the place of arts in K-12 education: PCAH identifies the need for federal and state education leaders to provide policy guidance for employing the arts to increase the rigor of curriculum, strengthen teacher quality, and improve low-performing schools.
5. Widen the focus of evidence gathering about arts education: PCAH believe that there is room to expand systematic data gathering about the arts, specifically in developing creativity and enhancing engagement in school. From a federal perspective, policymakers should help stakeholders make informed arguments and decisions regarding impact and equitable access. This requires policies that support ongoing data gathering about available opportunities, including teacher quality, resources, and facilities at the local and state level.
Right Brain’s program model directly addresses much of what is proposed in these recommendations. We are a partnership-based organization, with collaboration between classroom teachers, arts specialists, and teaching artists providing us a strong foundation. We offer nationally recognized professional development with a Kennedy Center teaching artist in arts integration for educators, administrators, and teaching artists. We utilize teaching artists’ capabilities to deepen students’ classroom learning experiences. We have employed the talents of one of the nation’s top arts consultants to customize our program evaluation process to add to the existing body of evidence about the effectiveness of arts integration programs. And we have the full support of city and school district officials in the Portland metro area as we work on a grassroots level to effect long-term, systemic change in our school districts. With all of the national attention Right Brain has been receiving lately from organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Huffington Post, and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, we know that we are having a positive impact on our education system that we hope will inspire others throughout Oregon and the nation.