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The Lost Paragraphs from Arne Duncan’s Arts Education Speech at AEP

Well, by lost, I mean if I could wave a magic wand, this is what he would have added…

Let me start from the beginning. As most of you know, last Friday at the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) Forum  held in DC, both Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education and Rocco Landesman, Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts gave speeches on arts education.

If you didn’t know, humm, perhaps you’ve been traveling abroad?

I would like to focus this entry on Duncan. Although I will say that most people are pretty happy with Landesman’s speech. For a first speech on this topic, very likely a first in his career, it was a very positive, sunny, and community-oriented speech. While I have to take issue with the speech failing to recognize the long-term challenges to providing equitable access to arts education, something that is foremost on the minds of anyone connected with urban school districts, I think it’s fair to give Landesman a high grade for this, his first speech.

Moving right along to Secretary Duncan, I think he gets very high grades for just showing up. That’s right: just showing up. And by showing up, I mean speaking to the issue of arts education across numerous public appearances, making his most senior staff accessible, and saying much of the right things, in general. This is new territory for the USDOE.

Let me be perfectly clear about this. Few secretaries of education over the past 30 years have even acknowledged the arts. Go back and look for similar speeches from Spellings, Paige, Riley, Alexander, Bennett, etc. You are going to be hard pressed to find much of anything.

On that basis, there’s a lot to be happy about.

However, unlike Landesman, this was not Duncan’s first time at the arts education speech rodeo. It’s getting to the point where people are hungry to hear something more. So, I have taken the liberty of adding a couple of paragraph to Duncan’s speech. The paragraphs fall under the category of what might have been. The section added by me, is in bold and italics.

If I have the time, I may just try and do a little mash-up of Duncan and Landesman’s speeches, to see how it would swing in one speech combined.

The Well-Rounded Curriculum
Secretary Arne Duncan’s Remarks at the Arts
Education Partnership National Forum


April 9, 2010

If there is a message that I hope you will take away from today’s
conference it is this: The arts can no longer be treated as a frill. As
First Lady Michelle Obama has said, “the arts are not just a nice thing
to have or do if there is free time or if one can afford it… Paintings
and poetry, music and design… they all define who we are as a

All of you know the history all too well. For decades, arts education
has been treated as though it was the novice teacher at school, the
last hired and first fired when times get tough. But President Obama,
the First Lady, and I reject the notion that the arts, history, foreign
languages, geography, and civics are ornamental offerings that can or
should be cut from schools during a fiscal crunch. The truth is that, in
the information age, a well-rounded curriculum is not a luxury but a

That is why I am excited to announce that we are instituting a new policy to help make my remarks today a reality across the United States. For too long the arts have been overwhelmed by other interests and issues, and we will no longer allow that to happen through any of our policies and programs at the USDOE.

Starting today, we will institute a policy that requires all funded programs at the USDOE to include a provision requiring that applicants and grantees certify that their programs will not negatively impact arts education. And what is more, we will ask them to indicate how programs in other areas will help to support arts education in each applicable school community. 

For years we have required that certain programs are supplemental and
do not supplant. Based on that precedent, we believe that this
intervention can help to ensure that the curriculum will be expanded,
not narrowed, and that arts education as part of a well rounded
education will be advanced and expanded rather than diminished.

This provision will be incorporated into ESEA and across all programs going forward. I only wish that this had been done in time to be incorporated into the Race to the Top and i3 guidelines

I am not going to sugarcoat the tough choices that many districts are
facing this year. State and local school budgets are absolutely
strained across the country. Many of you are fighting lonely battles to
preserve funding for arts education. There is no getting around that
fact–and I applaud your commitment to fully educating America’s
children by engaging them in the arts.

At the same time, in challenge lies opportunity. As Rahm Emanuel has
said, “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Now– as we move
forward with reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education
Act–is the time to rethink and strengthen arts education.

And I ask you to help build the national case for the importance of a
well-rounded curriculum–not just in the arts but in the humanities
writ large.

The question of what constitutes an educated person has been taken up
by the great thinkers in every society. Yet few of those leading lights
have concluded that a well-educated person need only learn math,
science, and read in their native tongue. As James Leach, the chairman
of the National Endowment for the Humanities recently put it, a society
that fails to study history, refuses to learn from literature, and
denies the lessons of philosophy “imprisons [its] thoughts in the here
and now.” A well-educated student, in other words, is exposed to a
well-rounded curriculum. It is the making of connections, conveyed by a
rich core curriculum, which ultimately empowers students to develop
convictions and reach their full academic and social potential.

The study of history and civics helps provide that sense of time
beyond the here and now. The study of geography and culture helps build a
sense of space and place. And the study of drama, dance, music, and
visual arts helps students explore realities and ideas that cannot be
summarized simply or even expressed in words or numbers.

That complexity forces students to grapple with and resolve questions
that will not have a single, correct, fill-in-the-bubble solution.

In America, education has long served a special role: It has been the
great equalizer. From Thomas Jefferson on, America’s leaders have
recognized that public education and the study of the liberal arts were
essential to creating an informed citizenry that could vote and
participate in civil society. In 1784, years before the Constitutional
Convention met in Philadelphia and only weeks after the war with the
British had ended, George Washington sat down to write a letter to a

But Washington did not recount the recent triumph over the British.
He asked for books instead, because, he wrote, “to encourage literature
and the arts is a duty which every good citizen owes to his country.”

In America, we do not reserve arts education for privileged students
or the elite. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds, students who are
English language learners, and students with disabilities often do not
get the enrichment experiences of affluent students anywhere except at
school. President Obama recalls that when he was a child “you always had
an art teacher and a music teacher. Even in the poorest school
districts, everyone had access to music and other arts.”

Today, sadly, that is no longer the case. And that is one reason why I
believe education is the civil rights issue of our generation–and why
arts education remains so critical to leveling the playing field of
opportunity. Robert Maynard Hutchins, the former president of the
University of Chicago, put it well when he said that “the best education
for the best is the best education for all.”

I learned that lesson firsthand from my father, who was a psychology
professor at the University of Chicago and a banjo player. He cared
deeply about promoting student growth.

But he was even more committed to a dual mission for teachers–to not
just educate students but to help prepare them for a lifetime of
learning. You might say he was an amateur arts educator of sorts because
he worked for many years as the faculty representative for the
university’s annual folk music festival.

Attending the folk festival every year growing up, my brother,
sister, and I listened to the blues and bluegrass, African drummers and
mariachi music, Chilean, Russian, and Ukrainian bands, Celtic music and
gospel. We were exposed not just to music from across the globe, but,
through music, the vastness and extraordinary diversity of the world

I must confess that my father–at least in my case–failed to pass on
his musical talents. Even so, I did flail away for several years on the
drums in the middle school band. I learned some good lessons in the
process–despite my forgettable performance.

The fact is that most students who take the arts are not going to be
professional musicians, painters, dancers, or actors. Yet every student
who plays in a band, acts in a play, dances in a company, or sings in
the chorus can benefit from the experience in amazing ways.

Through the arts, students can learn teamwork and practice
collaborative learning with their peers. They develop skills and
judgment they didn’t know they had–whether it is drumming in time or
acquiring the knowledge to differentiate between Pavarotti and the tenor
in the choir loft at the Sunday service.

No matter what the color of our skin or beliefs, “all of us can draw
lessons from the works of history” says President Obama. “All of us can
be moved by a symphony, all of us can be moved by a soprano’s voice or a
film’s score.” Art, that is, has a universal appeal because it speaks,
as the President points out, to a shared yearning “for truth and for
beauty, for connection and the simple pleasure of a good story.”

Now, I spent much of last year on a Listening and Learning Tour that
took me to more than 35 states. And I heard quite a few stories. I spoke
with thousands of students, parents, and teachers.

And almost everywhere I went, I heard people express concern that the
curriculum has narrowed, especially in schools that serve
disproportionate numbers of disadvantaged students.

There is no doubt that math, reading, writing, and science are vital
core components of a good education in today’s global economy. But so is
the study of history, foreign languages, civics, and the arts. And it
is precisely because a broad and deep grounding in the arts and
humanities is so vital that we must be perpetually vigilant that public
schools, from pre-K through twelfth grade, do not narrow the curriculum.

The case for a well-rounded curriculum begins with a disappointing
reality: Many schools today are falling far short of providing an
engaging, content-rich curriculum. Instead, students are often saddled
with boring textbooks, dummied-down to the lowest common denominator. It
is no wonder that much of today’s curriculum fails to spark student
curiosity or stimulate a love of learning. As Ernest Boyer pointed out
years ago, “Many kids drop out of school because no one ever noticed
that they dropped in.”

Yet we know from research that access to a challenging high school
curriculum has a greater impact on whether a student will earn a
four-year college degree than his or her high school test scores, class
rank, or grades. And we know that low-income students are less likely to
have access to these accelerated learning opportunities and
college-level coursework than their peers.

One impact of the content-lite curriculum is that many Americans are
appallingly ignorant of our nation’s origins.

You will perhaps not be surprised to hear that a recent public
opinion survey by the American Revolution Center found that more than 80
percent of Americans know Michael Jackson sang “Beat It” and “Billie
Jean.” By contrast, a majority of Americans believe the Civil War, the
Emancipation Proclamation, or the War of 1812 occurred before the
Declaration of Independence.

Less than half of Americans today know that Valley Forge, the iconic
site of George Washington’s winter encampment with the Continental Army,
is in Pennsylvania.

In the coming debate over ESEA reauthorization, I believe that arts
education can help build the case for the importance of a well-rounded,
content-rich curriculum in at least three ways.

First, the arts significantly boost student achievement, reduce
discipline problems, and increase the odds that students will go on to
graduate from college. Second, arts education is essential to
stimulating the creativity and innovation that will prove critical to
young Americans competing in a global economy. And last, but not least,
the arts are valuable for their own sake, and they empower students to
create and appreciate aesthetic works.

As the First Lady sums up, she and the president both believe
“strongly that arts education is essential for building innovative
thinkers who will be our nation’s leaders for tomorrow.”

It is not surprising that visual arts instruction improves reading
readiness, or that learning to play the piano or to master musical
notation helps students to master math. Reading, math, and writing
require students to understand and use symbols–and so does assembling
shapes and colors in a portrait or using musical notes to learn

Is it any surprise then to learn of the large impact that arts
education has on student achievement and attainment, especially among
disadvantaged students?

Low-income students who play in the orchestra or band are more than
twice as likely to perform at the highest levels in math as peers who do
not play music. In James Catterall’s well-known longitudinal study, Doing
Well and Doing Good by Doing Art
, low-income students at
arts-rich high schools were more than twice as likely to earn a B.A. as
low-income students at arts-poor high schools.

English language learners at arts-rich high schools were also far
more likely than their peers at arts-poor high schools to go on to

In the annals of education research, these are big effects–and ones
we would like to see more schools replicate.

Fortunately, numerous schools are beginning to take these lessons to
scale. Last year, I had the privilege of visiting an early learning
facility, the Educare Center in Oklahoma City, which is home to one of
the 60 schools in Oklahoma’s A+ Schools network.

Oklahoma’s A+ school-network nurtures creativity in every
student–and a recent evaluation shows not just that the program
increases student achievement but boosts attendance and decreases
discipline problems as well.

When I took over as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools in 2001, a
survey by the Chicago Community Trust showed that one in seven
elementary schools in the city did not provide a single class of arts
instruction a week. Fifteen elementary schools, with 7,300 children,
provided no arts instruction at all.

Through CAPE, the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education, we brought
local artists and teachers into the schools to partner up on integrating
arts curriculum with academic subjects. And follow-up studies showed
that students at the CAPE schools performed better on standardized
assessment than students who attended schools that did not integrate
arts and academics.

I have been especially fortunate to witness the power of integrated
curriculum firsthand with our son and daughter, who are now in
kindergarten and second grade respectively in a Virginia public school.
Their school has a science focus.

But it is an extraordinary music teacher, Joe Puzzo, who is the
absolute rock star with the students. He writes and teaches songs to the
kids about science. Mr. Puzzo has got third graders singing about
gravity, sedimentation, rocks, and the planets. Students sing, clap,
and dance about solids, liquids and gases. What a fun way to learn.

When Columbus Day or Martin Luther King Day come around, Mr. Puzzo
sits down and writes songs for the students about Christopher Columbus
and Martin Luther King. Years later, when students sit down to take
their SATs, they report humming Mr. Puzzo’s songs to recall historical
and scientific content.

As a side note, I will confess that our son and daughter have
instructed us, in no uncertain terms, that we are to bid high in the
auction this year to win an afternoon with Mr. Puzzo.

Now, you all have heard that advanced STEM courses will be essential
to workers who want to compete in the global economy.

Those claims are true. STEM courses develop critical thinking and
problem-solving skills in math and science, they spur innovation, and
they enhance self-direction. But as Daniel Pink, author of A Whole
New Mind
, has pointed out, good arts education accomplishes many
of the same ends.

The fact is that high-quality arts and humanities instruction are
almost uniquely suited to stimulate imagination, creativity, and the
ability to find adaptive solutions. Creativity, as Sandra Ruppert, AEP’s
Director notes, is a “precursor to innovation and the cornerstone of

Put another way, knowledge–without imagination–is not good enough
for students in today’s fluid job market. “Imagination is more important
than knowledge,” Albert Einstein once reminded us, because “knowledge
is limited whereas imagination embraces the entire world.”

It is no coincidence that Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist
and author of The World is Flat, predicts that “the school,
the state, the country that empowers, nurtures, [and] enables
imagination among its students” is going to be the winner in the
rapidly-evolving global economy of the twenty-first century.

Now, what can the federal government do to support high-quality arts
education and a well-rounded curriculum? Let me answer that question by
telling you first what we cannot do. We will not endorse or sanction any
specific curricula–and the Department is in fact appropriately
prohibited by law from endorsing or sanctioning curricula.

The department will, however, continue to fund research studies on
the effectiveness of curricula as it has in the past. And it will
continue to require districts to ensure that schools receiving federal
funds through Title I or in school turnarounds are using evidence-based
instructional programs aligned with academic standards.

We are currently in the midst of conducting the first large-scale
survey of school principals, music teachers, and visual arts specialists
in ten years.

I want to underscore that our proposal to reauthorize ESEA goes much
further than existing law in supporting a well-balanced curriculum. Our
ESEA proposal will allow states to incorporate assessments of subjects
beyond English language arts and math in their accountability systems.
And we plan to invest in the development of better assessments, so
schools and teachers don’t feel pressured to teach to low-quality,
standardized tests.

I will be the first to tell you the department has not always been
seen as a proponent of a well-balanced education.

The truth is that when I was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, I did
not welcome a call from the nice man or woman at the U.S. Department of
Education. But that reluctance stemmed from the fact that the
department has historically been a compliance machine, rather than an
engine of innovation.

I want to flip that. And as many of you know, our budget and ESEA
proposals would flip that historical relationship for arts educators.

We have proposed to take the $40 million for arts education that now
goes to directed grants and a couple of small competitions with an array
of applications and requirements, and replace it with a much bigger,
competitive pool of $265 million to strengthen the teaching of arts,
foreign languages, civics and government, and other subjects.

Existing arts education programs have worthy goals. But they have
resulted in fragmented funding at the federal, state, and local level.

Under our new ESEA proposal, high-need districts, and states and
non-profits in partnership with high-need districts, would be eligible
to apply for the grants, which place a priority on cross-subject
learning but don’t mandate it. At the same time, we would increase
access and funding for college-level, dual credit, and other accelerated
courses in high-need schools to support not only a well-rounded, but a
rigorous curriculum.

Two of our new and most innovative programs–Investing in Innovation
or i3, and Promise Neighborhoods, loosely modeled after the Harlem
Children’s Zone’s comprehensive community-based organization–have the
potential to support effective arts education programs and partnerships
as well.

I don’t think arts education should ever be relegated to taking place
only in after-school hours. But arts educators can provide high-quality
instruction in after-school and extended day programs that is
especially critical for low-income students.

In fact, we anticipate that place-based Promise Neighborhood programs
in low-income communities may include high-quality arts instruction.
Research suggests that arts education not only boosts academic outcomes,
but that neighborhood-based arts and cultural activities can build
stronger cities and communities.

I recognize that our plans to shift to competitive funding for arts
education may make some arts providers nervous, even if they can
potentially compete for significantly more funding than in the past.
Change can be unsettling.

But I urge arts educators to have the confidence of their convictions
to compete and demonstrate the value of their disciplines on student

The operative phrases here are “outcomes” and “high-quality” arts
instruction. Just as in every other core subject, some arts instruction
is top-rate, some is mediocre.

I am pleased that the arts community, for more than 15 years, has
pioneered the development of voluntary standards in dance, drama, music,
and the visual arts.

Forty-nine states now have established content and/or performance
standards outlining what students should know and be able to do in one
or more art form. Many districts, including Chicago, now not only
articulate arts standards, but also spell out a sequential series of
courses aligned with state standards.

So, arts education is making real progress toward defining quality
and demonstrating outcomes, but challenges remain. A number of states
have taken steps to develop rigorous arts assessments. Unfortunately,
those assessments have faced setbacks and funding cutbacks in recent

Too many schools still fail to offer a standards-based course of
study in all four arts disciplines. We all know that unacceptable
disparities in arts education between low-income and affluent districts
continue to persist.

Despite these challenges, and the tough budgetary climate, arts
education must not just survive but thrive. A well-balanced curriculum
is simply too vital to our students and our national character to let
the teaching of the arts and humanities erode.

In 1963, shortly before he was assassinated, President Kennedy spoke
about the importance of poetry at the groundbreaking for the Robert
Frost Library at Amherst College where Frost had taught. And here is
what Kennedy said: “Our national strength matters,” he declared, “but
the spirit which informs and controls our strength matters just as

Robert Frost’s poetry, in Kennedy’s eyes, reminded us of the
limitations of power. Power might lead man toward arrogance, but “poetry
reminds him of his limitations.” When power narrows the areas of man’s
concern, Kennedy said, “poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity
of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”

It was art, Kennedy concluded, that “establishes the basic human
truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.”

I thank all of you for your tireless commitment to supporting arts
education. And I urge you to continue the fight to provide all of our
children with a well-rounded and rigorous education. Let the arts, as
President Kennedy said, establish the basic human truths which must
serve as the touchstone of our judgment.




  1. Bob Morrison says

    I enjoyed the article and certainly wish this Sec. of Ed would take more action and do less talking about the arts. Great words mean nothing and so far he has done… nothing.
    Dick Riley did way more in eight years than any other Secretary of Education. He is responsible for adding the arts to the national education goals, adopting the national standards for arts education, creating the arts education partnership (with NEA Chair Jane Alexander) and prominently featuring the arts in his broadcast town meetings.
    Cold he have done more… yes! But this Sec of Ed has a long way to go before he can come close to being compared to Riley. And Duncan needs to stop talking and start doing!
    You know the old saying… Talk is cheap!

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