The Madonna Method of Arts Education
If you're just joining me for the first time, welcome. You've happened on a conversation already in progress, so here's the lowdown: I blogged on my former site, Philly Drama Queen, about Ann Hulbert's New York Times Magazine piece on arts education. Then, I blogged some more (please see previous entry) about the issue. I'll wait here until you've caught up.
Ok, now catch your breath, hold my hand, and prepare to be depressed...
After poking around a bit more on the NAEP's website, one thing quickly became clear: the government definitely considers the arts to be the country cousins of math, reading and science. Next year, the NAEP plans to
"administer the assessment to over 1,000,000 students in more than 19,000 public and private schools in each state and the nation."
This testing, whatever you think of it, has been and will be conducted in fourth and eighth grades annually, and in 12th grade for reading and math (this last on a volunteer basis).
In comparison, the arts were last assessed in 1997, with a sample of roughly 7,000 eighth graders, and covered music, theater and visual arts. Though a dance test was developed, it was dropped due to "the lack of a suitable national sample," a statement which speaks volumes.
The test was somehow revived this year, but seems to have lost its theater component in the intervening decade. Judging by the 1997 results of schools' own reporting--74% of students received no theater instruction--one can only assume that under No Child Left Behind, with its emphasis on funding the three R's at the expense of everything else, the situation has only worsened.
So though schools were tested on their ability to nurture creative thought about visual art and music, the NAEP only processes these results as national scores, leaving states to shrug off responsibility and continue allowing their arts programs to disappear. Remember in Truth or Dare, that Madonna documentary, where Warren Beatty asks her, "Why do anything if it's off-camera?"
Well it's sort of like that. Why bother teaching something if no one's testing it? It doesn't get you any more money even if your students enjoy it, and in fact, if they enjoy it too much, that might reduce their math and English scores, which will, in turn, reduce funding.
Wanna know the next time NAEP will test the arts? 2016. Maybe by then they can get rid of music, too.