The Nation's Report Card: Arts 2008

Rachel Roseberry

Institute for Education Sciences
June 2009

The National Center for Education Statistics just released the Nation's Arts Report Card, previously covered by Fordham's D.C. team here and here. The report details the state of the nation's art education after testing 8,000 eighth-grade students in visual arts and music. The findings, as noted by Fordham, were overwhelmingly average with student scores ranging from 105 and 194, out of a possible 300 for the visual arts section. Other significant findings included achievement gaps between white/Asian students and black/Hispanic students and between male and female. The report indicates students have not shown much improvement in the arts, which may be caused by the increased emphasis on reading and math skills.

It is unclear what these results mean for discussions of national standards and assessments. Arts education and students' knowledge of visual art and music appear to be on shaky footing. Regardless, the Arts Report Card is a timely reminder that we cannot put content standards in danger by focusing too much on so-called 21st century skills (see Fordham President Chester E. Finn, Jr. on the subject here). Finn and Diane Ravitch co-edited a book, Beyond the Basics: Achieving a Liberal Education for All Children, that describes why education should be a liberal education, and in a chapter on the arts, Dana Gioia, a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, stated, "The real purpose of arts education is to awaken us to the full potential of our humanity both as individuals and citizens in society."

In Ohio, the biennial budget has just been finalized. Between the larger provisions on school funding and choice are provisions on academic standards that are just as significant. But the arts receive very little mention except for a promise that they will be revised in some as yet unknown way. Whatever that revision may be, we cannot forget that the arts are important, and Ohio students deserve standards that recognize that importance within the development of a truly comprehensive content-rich curriculum.

Read the Arts Report Card here, and read Beyond the Basics here.

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