It’s Time to Revise the National Standards
The World Wide Web had yet to go mainstream and there was No eBay, no YouTube, no Amazon, no iPod. Apple was in the computer business, Google was not even a dream. Musical tones were generated from electric boxes with cords and plugs. Desktop music making was more concept than reality. Mashing was for potatoes. Hip-hop was called rap. A Bush was in the White House (41) and the battle over inclusion of the arts as a core subject was in full force. No Child Left Behind – not yet. E-mail – just starting to become a business tool. Weblogs, streaming audio, streaming video? Nada. Classroom keyboard labs? Research connecting music and how kids may learn? None of these activities existed.
This is the backdrop for a period in time –1992 — when the National Standards for Arts Education were being developed. They were formally released to the U.S. Secretary of Education in March of 1994 – almost 13 years ago. In the time since, most states have used these standards to develop their own state-level benchmarks for what every child should know and be able to do in music, dance, theater, and the visual arts. In many states, these frameworks have been revised since original adoption. A few are on their third review.
The National Standards for Arts Education did exactly what they were supposed to do: provide the framework for states and local school districts to use as the “national” source of what we expect our children to learn when engaged with the arts. The document, and the many, many people who contributed to its development, have served the community well … until now.
The reality is the National Standards for Arts Education are long in the tooth. As a roadmap for states and schools it is time to review the standards to see what, if any, adjustment need to be made. Why?
Plan, Do, See, Review
Let’s face it — if we are going to be ready for the renaissance for music and arts education then we better revise the document that we point to with pride as the model for what we expect from our programs. That is not to say the current standards have failed. Far from it. In my opinion, they have been a huge success. And that is the problem … it is my opinion. I would really like to know how the broader music and arts education community feels about it. Any significant effort of the magnitude of the standards needs to be objectively evaluated to determine how effective it has been and how it may be improved.
The content in the National Standards for Arts Education is 14 years old. Heck — the math folks have already revised their standards. I know the Arts standards were done well, but nothing is done so well that it does not need to be reviewed or revised in fourteen years (I know they were released 13 years ago but most of the work was completed in 1992-1993).
Even businesses do not allow a business plan to go more than three years without a review. When I was in the business world one of my bosses always told me:
- It’s Time to Revise the National Standards
- Plan, Do, See, Review
- Plan the work
- Do the work
- See the impact of the work
- Review the work
After this process we would then repeat it, crafting a revised plan based on our review of the work and applying the new knowledge gained in the review process.
It should be no different with the Arts Standards. So many states have developed their own variations on the standards theme that I suspect somebody has come up with valuable lessons that can be applied to the original standards document. Since it has had such an impact on what is happening around the country, don’t we owe it to the music and arts education community to ensure this document truly represents the very best thinking available?
When I have spoken with some of the national arts education leaders regarding the revision of the standards, there appears to be some frustration and not a lot of consensus regarding the revision. Some leaders recognize that even great plans need to be reviewed. Others are concerned it will just lead to one big fight. That it was just too hard the first time.
Well … no one suggests starting over. But, is it too much to ask to just be sure we are on the right path?
This lack of consensus to me is a clear sign that a review and possible revision of the standards MUST occur for the benefit of the field.
As one who was tangentially involved with the original development for the National Standards and very involved in the promotional efforts to raise the profile for this document, I had a front-row seat as the Arts Standards were crafted. Having done so, I feel I am on solid ground asking this question with regards to their revision: What’s the hold-up?
Bob Morrison is the executive vice president and chairman emeritus of Music for All Inc. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His comments originally appeared in MMR’s sister publication, School Band and Orchestra.