- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 23, 2005

Students in Marce Miller’s art classes are turning their digital profiles into images of the pharaohs of Egypt, reinforcing lessons learned about ancient Egypt before the winter break. Miss Miller tells them that the black around the front-view eyes they created for the photos absorbs all light and that the white linens Egyptians used for clothing reflected light, a science fact they learned through art. The crowns the students made for the monthlong project, completed last week, have geometric designs that repeat — another lesson, but this time in mathematics.

“It’s an additional way for kids to learn things in a hands-on way,” says Miss Miller, art teacher for Stafford Elementary School in Stafford, Va.

Miss Miller says she tries to connect her art projects to what students are learning in the classroom.

The connection is something Stafford County Public Schools supports by funding an art teacher for each of the district’s 15 elementary schools. The Virginia General Assembly revised the Standards of Quality, which define the minimum requirements in instruction and staffing for the state’s school districts, to include funding for elementary resource teachers in art, music and physical education. The revision will be effective in July 2005, with funding provided this year for school districts that already provide the positions.

“We’ve always required instruction in the arts. What’s new is state support for teachers that provide that instruction,” says Charles Pyle, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education in Richmond.

Although the arts, including visual arts, music, dance and theater, are losing ground in public schools across the nation, including in the District’s schools, the subject has gotten a boost or at least been maintained in Maryland and Virginia schools because of state and local support.

“We’re not being cut like some folks across the country,” says Tom Payne, coordinator of the Office of Advanced Programs and Fine Arts of the Howard County Public School System in Ellicott City, Md. “We’re not experiencing any major cuts in time and money, but we’re having to be careful and aware of these issues so we can maintain all of our programs.”

One issue, Mr. Payne says, concerns the emphasis on traditional content areas, particularly reading, writing and mathematics, over other subjects in response to the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). The legislation is intended to close the academic achievement gap disadvantaged students experience in the nation’s schools.

In January 2003, the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) in Alexandria commissioned boards of education across the country, nonprofit organizations, and art and foreign-language professionals and educators to study whether the arts and foreign languages are a lost curriculum.

“We interestedly concluded that it’s not lost, per se, but marginalized and at risk for being lost,” says Lori Meyer, project director for NASBE about the report, “The Complete Curriculum: Ensuring a Place for the Arts and Foreign Languages in America’s Schools,” issued in October 2003.

Policy-makers and educators have responded to NCLB and standards-based reform by increasing the time allotted for state-tested subjects to close the achievement gap, shortening the time that can be used for the arts, foreign languages, social studies and history, Ms. Meyer says.

“It’s really important to just consider the big picture when you’re looking at educating a child,” she says. “It’s important to have a complete curriculum, access to all kinds of different subjects.”

In a recession, as in the one that began in 2001, the arts are one of the first subjects to be cut, unless a school district is in an area wealthy enough to support increasing taxes, says Larry Peeno, deputy executive director of the National Art Education Association, a teacher service organization based in Reston.

“[The arts are] not receiving the fair share of time and money and space in the public schools that we would like it to,” says Mr. Peeno, who holds a doctorate in curriculum and instruction.

Maryland adopted a series of initiatives aimed at improving the quality of arts programs in the state’s schools. An incentive grants program initiated in 1999 awards grants to every school district to improve art programs and provide professional development for arts teachers.

“In some parts of the country, we hear about wholesale loss of programs, but that hasn’t happened in Maryland,” says James L. Tucker Jr., coordinator of fine arts for the Maryland State Department of Education. “In some of our lower economic areas, its a struggle to maintain programs. That’s to be expected, but programs in the arts are being maintained. Certainly, we think the grants program has helped.”

Maryland elementary schools have at least one visual arts teacher and music teacher in every school to provide students with 60 minutes of instruction a week in each subject. The schools have bands and choruses, offered at more advanced levels in the middle and high schools.

Northern Virginia school districts provide arts instruction as part of the regular school day for elementary schools and offer arts classes as electives or required courses in the middle and high schools. Some of the districts have specialized programs, such as Loudoun County’s voluntary strings program for fourth- and fifth-graders, initiated in 2001.

A similar program is offered in Fairfax County for fourth- through sixth-graders and includes 45 minutes of instruction a week, along with 45 minutes of band instruction. In Arlington, instrumental music is offered for fourth- and fifth-graders as either a pullout program for interested students or as inclusive for all students, depending on the school.

At the high school level, the Virginia and Maryland state departments of education require one fine arts credit, equal to two semesters, for graduation, while the District of Columbia Public Schools requires a half-credit in music and a half-credit in art.

“We’re a strong believer that arts are good for all kids,” says Roger Tomhave, fine arts coordinator for Fairfax County Public Schools. He holds a doctorate in curriculum and instruction. “When tough budget times come, we take our fair share of our budget cuts, but we haven’t taken greater cuts than other disciplines.”

That is not the case for some District schools. The school system distributes general funds to individual schools according to student population. Elementary and middle schools have seen cuts in the arts, especially at the elementary level.

“It’s up to principals to make a decision whether to support art programs in their schools,” says Benjamin Hall, director of music for District public schools.

This school year, 37 percent of District elementary school students do not have access to a music teacher, an increase from 30 percent the previous school year, Mr. Hall says. “They’re [likely] focusing on what they’re going to be evaluated on, which is math and reading,” he says.

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