Arts Education Policy Essay

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Arts education policy refers to the decisions that legislators, funders, and administrators make with respect to teaching and learning in the arts. Policies on arts education address not only in-school course work in art, music, drama, and dance, current attention is also aimed at out-of-school arts programming offered by community organizations and arts providers. In the last two decades, proactive policy related to arts education has become increasingly important as accountability and high-stakes testing prompt mandates for school learning that exclude time for the arts.

This entry looks at the primary policy issues facing arts education in four topic areas: (1) equity in access and opportunity for the arts in diverse communities; (2) preparation and training for in-school arts teachers, visiting teaching artists, and performing artists who work in schools; (3) the roles and responsibilities of external providers and community organizations; and (4) students learning in arts-specific instruction and integration of the arts.

Equitable Access

Policy in arts education is informed by the engagement of ethnic communities in urban school districts that advocate for the inclusion of arts history and culture in the curriculum. Local museums and performing arts organizations in urban and suburban school systems often have incentives through private and public funding options to partner with public schools and offer services to school children and their parents. Groups that traditionally have had reduced access to arts curriculum, including those in rural and isolated areas, now have more opportunities through Web-based and distance learning. The content of arts curriculum that addresses the histories and cultures of diverse populations of students and their families is increasingly essential in a multicultural society. Equity in access represents a consistent issue for policy makers at the local, state, and national levels.

Preparation And Training

A consistent debate that affects policy decisions in the field focuses on who should teach the arts. Recruitment and retention of arts teachers for arts specific instruction remains an issue, particularly for school districts in which funding has been directed away from arts teaching and toward reading, math, and science content. In this climate of diminishing resources, arts councils and school districts are also considering the merits of integrating the arts into the existing math, science, social studies, or literacy curriculum. Classroom teachers and visiting teaching artists then teach the arts, often without the support of a certified arts teacher in the building. This practice has raised questions about how to advocate for more arts funding while supplying arts education through classroom teachers.

Endorsement, certification, and other means of licensure required by states and school districts for artists and arts teachers working in schools remain a topic for policy makers. Just as in nonarts subject fields, there are persistent questions about teachers’ content expertise, experience in making and performing art, and preparation for teaching in and across art forms. How and whether noncertified teaching artists can contribute to arts curricula in schools is a focus for research and evaluation. There is a need for research that addresses the interrelationships and continuity of arts teaching and learning from preschool through higher education. Policy research can only be addressed if funders are willing to support such initiatives.

A third arena for policy discussion focuses on the role of external providers, particularly in the major metropolitan areas of the United States. It is not clear whether the engagement of theater companies, symphony orchestras, dance companies, and museums has contributed to learning in the arts disciplines or to students’ nonarts academic achievement. As community arts organizations form partnerships to deliver arts curricula in schools, they are increasingly involved in providing evidence that what they offer contributes to student learning.

Arts And The Curriculum

Has arts integration, implemented by noncertified visiting artists or nonarts classroom teachers, enhanced specific learning in nonarts disciplines as defined by state standards? Has arts integration maintained the integrity of the art form engaged? Some arts education proponents claim that increasing arts integration in financially strained districts is a means of avoiding hiring of faculty specialists in the arts. Others claim that arts integration programs raise the visibility of the arts in communities, thereby encouraging more arts specific programming in schools.

Arts education proponents are being asked to document how the arts contribute to nonart learning through questions such as, “What is the effect of the arts on literacy?” Arts researchers are also raising the inverse question, “What is the effect of literacy on the arts?” Indicators of student learning in the arts are examined by researchers and program evaluators in response to the demand for accountability. Government-funded programs and private funding agencies continue to support research that examines the impact of arts education on student learning. As compelling research emerges that underscores the important role of teacher expertise on student learning, arts educators are also considering how teacher learning through arts-based professional development contributes to student achievement. Both research programs suggest the challenge and opportunity for balanced curricula in an era of teacher shortages, resource scarcity for the arts, and standards-based learning in schools.

Researchers and program evaluators are informing policy makers, district administrators, arts administrators, and teachers about arts learning, using mixed methods that include intensive multimedia documentation, teacher action research on arts practices, and assessments of student achievement through performance. The development of research programs that investigate the possible transfer of student learning in the arts to nonarts academic achievement and social development continues. The question of what is convincing, yet also authentic, research regarding arts curricula and effective teaching in school and after-school programs remains a challenge.


  1. Burnaford, G., Aprill, A. & Weiss, C. (2001). Renaissance in the classroom: Arts integration and meaningful learning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  2. Chapman, L. H. (2004). No child left behind in art? Arts Education Policy Review, 106(2), 3–17.
  3. Eisner, E. W., & Day, M. D. (2004). Handbook of research and policy in art education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum & National Art Education Association.
  4. Fiske, E. B. (Ed.). (2000). Champions of change: The impact of the arts on learning. Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership & The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.
  5. Stevenson, L. M., & Deasy, R. J. (2005). Third space. When learning matters. Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership.

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