2011 President’s Committee on Arts and the Humanities (PCAH)

In 2011, President Obama formed a committee on the arts and asked Michele Obama to chair, the President’s Committee on Arts and the Humanities (PCAH). The summary of their report is re-published here as an aid to students, teachers, parents and researchers:

In October of 2008, then-Senator Obama released a powerful Platform in Support of the Arts. In it he argued for reinvesting in American arts education, and reinvigorating the creativity and innovation that has made this country great. Taking up this charge, over the past eighteen months the President’s Committee on Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) has conducted an in-depth review of the current condition of arts education, surveying recent research about its documented benefits and identifying potential opportunities for advancing arts education.

While we found a growing body of research to support positive educational outcomes associated with arts-rich schools, and many schools and programs engaged in such work, we also found enormous variety in the delivery of arts education, resulting in a complex patchwork with pockets of visionary activity flourishing in some locations and inequities in access to arts education increasing in others. At this moment in our nation’s history, there is great urgency around major transformation in America’s schools. Persistently high dropout rates (reaching 50% or more in some areas) are evidence that many schools are no longer able to engage and motivate their students. Students who do graduate from high school are increasingly the products of narrowed curricula, lacking the creative and critical thinking skills needed for success in post-secondary education and the workforce. In such a climate, the outcomes associated with arts education –– which include increased academic achievement, school engagement, and creative thinking –– have become increasingly important. Decades of research show strong and consistent links between high-quality arts education and a wide range of impressive educational outcomes. This is true even though, as in most areas where learning is complex, the research base does not yet establish causal proof.

Arts integration models, the practice of teaching across classroom subjects in tandem with the arts, have been yielding some particularly promising results in school reform and closing the achievement gap. Most recently, cutting-edge studies in neuroscience have been further developing our understanding of how arts strategies support crucial brain development in learning.

At the same time, due to budget constraints and emphasis on the subjects of high stakes testing, arts instruction in schools is on a downward trend. Just when they need it most, the classroom tasks and tools that could best reach and inspire these students –– art, music, movement and performing –– are less available to them. Sadly, this is especially true for students from lower-income schools, where analyses show that access to the arts in schools is disproportionately absent.

One promising development is that, nationally, arts education is finding new allies. Policymakers and civic and business leaders, as reflected in several recent high level task force reports, are increasingly recognizing the potential role of the arts in spurring innovation, providing teachers with more effective classroom strategies, engaging students in learning, and creating a climate of high performance in schools. Another development is the enthusiasm among educators and members of the arts community for expanding arts integration and the use of well-trained teaching artists in schools.

Arts integration has been used in a number of very successful long term programs to expand arts opportunities, engage students more deeply in learning content, and as an effective school reform strategy. Teaching artists also represent an underutilized resource pool, many of whom are both eager and well qualified to serve in long- term assignments in schools. The PCAH recognized at the outset of this research that many diverse stakeholders have an interest in arts education. Any significant advancement in the field will require unprecedented unity of purpose and the coordinated actions of local, state, and federal government agencies, educators and professional associations, and the arts community.

The common purpose is expansion of access to arts education so that more students in American schools, especially those in underserved schools, have the benefits of a comprehensive education. Based on what we learned over the past year about needs and opportunities, the PCAH is making five recommendations for actions to be undertaken by different stakeholders to advance arts education. Those actions are designed to clarify the position of the arts in a comprehensive, well-rounded K-12 education that is appropriate for all students; unify and focus efforts to expand arts education offerings to underserved students and communities; and strengthen the evidence base for high quality arts education.

1. Build collaborations among different approaches. The PCAH urges leaders of professional associations to work with federal and state agencies to build and demonstrate connections among different educators in the arts: art specialists working on standards-based approaches; classroom teachers trained in arts integration; and project-based teaching artists. The PCAH believes that collaborations among national leadership organizations should move beyond internal debates in the arts education field about modes of delivery of arts instruction in order to address the more pressing issues of equitable access and infusing more schools with a creativity-rich environment.

2. Develop the field of arts integration. The second recommendation focuses on an expansion of arts integration. The PCAH encourages further development of the field of arts integration through strengthening teacher preparation and professional development, targeting available arts funding, and setting up mechanisms for sharing ideas about arts integration through communities of practice. In this recommendation we identify roles for regional and state arts and education agencies as well as private funders.

3. Expand in-school opportunities for teaching artists. We strongly believe that working artists in this country represent an underutilized and underdeveloped resource in increasing the quality and vitality of arts education in our public schools. The PCAH recommends expanding the role of teaching artists, in partnership with arts specialists and classroom teachers, through sustained engagements in schools. This should include supporting high quality professional development in pedagogy and curriculum. We see an opportunity for leadership in this from the regional and state arts agencies, as well as a national service program similar to the “Artists Corps” idea articulated in President Obama’s Arts Policy Campaign platform.

4. Utilize federal and state policies to reinforce the place of arts in K-12 education. This recommendation focuses on the need for federal and state education leaders to provide policy guidance for employing the arts to increase the rigor of curriculum, strengthen teacher quality, and improve low-performing schools. Building capacity to create and innovate in our students is central to guaranteeing the nation’s competitiveness. To do this it is necessary for federal and state governments to move beyond merely “allowing” the arts as an expenditure of a comprehensive education.

5. Widen the focus of evidence gathering about arts education. Finally, while the evidence base for the benefits of the arts is compelling, there is room to expand systematic data gathering about the arts, specifically in developing creativity and enhancing engagement in school. Educators need practical tools to measure the progress of student learning in the arts — an investment that dovetails with the federal education agency’s investments in more authentic assessments of complex learning. From a federal perspective, policymakers should help stakeholders make informed arguments and decisions regarding impact and equitable access. This requires policies that support ongoing data gathering about available opportunities, including teacher quality, resources, and facilities at the local and state level.

The PCAH envisions schools in cities and towns across our nation that are alive with the energy of creative thinking and fresh ideas, full of art, music and movement. All of our research points to the success of schools that are “arts-rich,” in which students who may have fallen by the wayside find themselves re-engaged in learning when their enthusiasm for film, design, theater or even hip-hop is tapped into by their teachers. More advanced students also reap rewards in this environment, demonstrating accelerated learning and sustained levels of motivation. PCAH stands ready to partner with public agencies and the private sector to further develop and implement these recommendations.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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