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Oh NCLB, Where Art Thou?

On January 20th, the USDOE is hosting an information session for arts education constituents concerning the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), otherwise known during the Bush administration as No Child Left Behind.

In regards to the arts, I know no one who holds the view that NCLB was anything but bad legislation. In a GAO report last year, it was reported that NCLB led to considerable problems related to equity and access. In other words, the kids who depend on schools the most for a quality education that includes the arts, got a raw deal.

So, where is the administration heading on this?

An article this week in Education Week predicated that  that the reauthorization of ESEA would resemble the USDOE’s Race to the Top (RttT):

• Turning around the lowest-performing schools.

Bolstering state data systems in order to link K-12 systems with early
learning, higher education, workforce, social services, and other state

• Improving teacher quality and the distribution
of effective teachers.

• Strengthening standards and assessments.

In addition, the RttT’s enhanced focus on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) is also likely to be focused on within ESEA.

I guess the big question for arts education advocates is whether or not ESEA will be arts education positive, neutral, or negative?

What can we learn from the last time around? The big win last time around was that arts education was classified in NCLB as a “core subject,” thanks to the efforts of a number of national advocates.

Yes, a win is a win, and in principle, it was important in helping to avoid arts being seen as “extracurricular.”

That being said, the next steps must be to ensure that accountability and other elements of ESEA, tied to testing in a few non-arts subjects do not ultimately make the arts non-core subjects as a practical matter.

I am attending the January 20th meeting and will be happy to report back as a blog entry.

ESEA Re Authorization and Arts Education


  1. This is a critical moment for us. I agree that the next year will see either a decrease in the power of school leaders and parents to choose their students’ education–or an improvement in the federal mandates that hold them accountable (and often provide consternation).
    I will point out, however, that I don’t think NCLB has been all bad. It’s been a critical catalyst for education change. It’s provided clearer benchmarks against which we can know which children are being shortchanged by the system.
    Thanks for an important post, Richard! I’ll see you on the 20th.

  2. Laura H. Chapman says

    I hope you will have the courage to speak up against the metaphor of Race to the Top and the insinuation in NCLB that teachers, most of them women, are solely responsible if children do not succeed in school. Change the names and metaphors. If that is not possible, then go for an NCLB accountability measure that stipulates a minimal time allocation for formal studies in the arts, in every grade in school, from certified teachers of art, as a precondition for gathering assessments in the arts and for the use of scores on arts assessments in teacher pay-for-perfomance. Otherwise, the current focus on outcomes only, especially test scores, is a case of monitoring learning without any concern for the role of talent, advantages beyond school, and so on. Access to instruction of assured quality for all students means regular instruction, with a planned multigrade curriculum, K-12, comparable in scope and depth and resoure allocations to studies in the sciences and humanities. The issue is NOT finding time for these studies. Neither is the issue money. We should not think that that studies in the arts have to be bootlegged (integrated) into other subjects or treated only as an enrichment (which Duncan has done more than once). We should be asking whether other subjects are taught in a manner that build upon the arts curriculum and enhances learning in the arts. A UNESCO study shows that many nations with whom we are compared in a negative light relative to international tests in literacy, math, and science are not only excelling on such tests, but also allocating far more time for studies in the arts and for learning one or two foreign languages than we are.The US has dumbed down the curriculum, made a fetish of test scores that predict little, and is now treating arts education as if it had some special corner on creativity, innovation, and other NOT 21st century skills. The gold standard for excellence in education is a curriculum with balanced studies in the arts, sciences, and humanities.That is what elite private schools in the US offer, and too few of our public schools are permitted to envision and pursue under the mandates of NCLB, including the new emphasis on STEM subjects. Please work to change the mindless rhetoric of federal policy. The UNESCO study that I have cited is by Aaron Benaot, pages 149-184 in Beyond the Basics, 2007, available at

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