Arts Education Partnership

June 2000 Meeting, Durham, North Carolina

Arnold Aprill

The Arts Education Partnership (AEP) is a private, nonprofit coalition of education, arts, business, philanthropic, and government organizations that was formed in 1995 through a cooperative agreement among four agencies: the NEA, the U.S. Education Department, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Its purpose is "to demonstrate and promote the essential role of arts education in enabling all students to succeed in school, life, and work.”

In June 2000, thirty state and local arts education partnerships from twenty-eight states participated in the AEP meeting in Durham, hosted by the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts. Through a series of facilitated discussions, participants examined: their successes in influencing education policy to support the arts; the types of arts learning they provide to students, teachers, and artists; the structures and methods of their partnerships; and the challenges and opportunities they face in school districts across the country. Program evaluation was also discussed.

Representatives from five large-scale arts-based school reform programs and the researchers evaluating them presented their work and served as resources to the evaluation discussions among the partnerships. The programs included the Arts in the Basic Curriculum Project (South Carolina), the Center for Arts Education (New York City Annenberg Challenge in Arts Education), North Carolina A+ Schools Program, Arts for Academic Achievement (the Minneapolis Annenberg Challenge for Arts Education), and Transforming Education through the Arts Challenge (Annenberg/Getty).

The discussions in Durham were part of an ongoing conversation among AEP colleagues to explore the multiple dimensions of the work of arts education partnerships across the country. Held four times a year, partnership meetings are intended to deepen the participants' collective understanding of the methods and processes they use to advance arts education in this country.

Summary of Breakout Discussions
AEP Meeting, June 17-18, 2000

Primary findings:
1) New energy: Energized arts education partnerships are emerging across the country, ranging from small, local initiatives to state-level initiatives.
2) Moving beyond residencies: These partnerships are moving beyond traditional “residency” and “service” models to partnership models that require on-going co-planning between artists and arts organizations, policy and curriculum organizers, and classroom teachers, arts teachers, and schools.
3) Financial commitments from districts: Some school districts are committing dollars to arts education partnerships.
4) Increased rigor: Greater attention is being given to increasing the rigor of teaching and learning in arts education partnerships.
5) Arts as curricular: We are moving beyond the image of the arts as an “extracurricular” add-on. Increasingly, both conviction and practice are demonstrating that the arts are essential to education and to effective curriculum development.
6) Standards: There is increasing attention to BOTH the development of student-centered, inquiry-based teaching and learning AND to addressing standards in the arts and in other academic content areas.
7) Arts integration: Many partnerships are including arts-integrated teaching and learning as a central part of
their practice. The integration of the arts is being driven both by in-school arts teachers and by external artist partners.
8) New roles for teachers, students, cultural institutions, and artists and arts teachers: Innovative practice was described in which teachers, students, and artists became active leaders in curriculum development and partnership review, in which students became arts docents to parents, and in which cultural institutions collaborated in creating new, student-driven spaces for arts exhibition and curriculum development. Non-arts cultural institutions (such as science museums) are starting to participate in arts education partnerships.

Primary Challenges:
1) Underdeveloped assessment: Most partnerships are struggling to develop effective methods to assess teaching, student learning, and partnership functioning that are useful and informative, that increase rigor, and that are aligned with and integrate into instruction. A growing sophistication in curriculum development is outstripping basic knowledge about assessment. As new, innovative examples of arts education emerge, new, equally innovative methods of assessment must also be developed that are congruent with the practice.
2) Underdeveloped evaluation: Most partnerships are struggling to find useful and effective evaluation. This challenge is compounded by confusion about the purposes and function of evaluation — formative vs. summative, program evaluation vs. research, advocacy vs. accountability. The partnership's capacity to identify useful evaluation questions is underdeveloped. Information about the access to and the impact of arts education partnerships in communities of color is underdeveloped. A suggestion was made that the field of arts education partnerships could learn from the museum education community where new understandings of assessment and evaluation are being developed.
3) Perceived threat to arts teachers: Arts education partnerships are consistently perceived as undermining the efforts of discipline-specific arts instruction and threatening the jobs of in-school, accredited music and visual art teachers. Some partnerships report that their experience is exactly the opposite. They claim, instead, that their partnerships have stimulated greater investment by schools in jobs for arts specialists and in discipline-specific study. Actual hard data need to be collected on the real impact of partnerships in this arena, and examples of certification for dancers, theater artists, and media artists need to be documented.
4) Sustainability: The sustainability of arts education partnerships, as a new, emergent practice, is challenged by several factors:
a) Dependence on a few visionaries: Arts education partnerships are often driven by a few charismatic innovators that risk burning out. How can leadership become more “dispersed” and “ordinary”?
b) Ambiguity about where leadership should reside: The outsider/insider dynamic of public/private arts education partnerships is highly generative, but it also creates ambiguity about where sustainable leadership should be based. In some settings, the discussion is dominated by major cultural institutions with limited capacity for collaboration.
c) Ambiguity about funding: Presentations were made about highly innovative strategies for cobbling together various funding opportunities for arts education partnerships, including an effective state level process. Missing, however, are coherent, sustainable funding streams that would provide scaffolding for the practice in a meaningful manner. Partnerships are currently embroiled in an on-going “shell game” for dollars that requires responding to constantly shifting application procedures and eligibility criteria. Partnerships are reduced to an experimental “pilot project” status, undermining the
real contribution they can make to effective, efficient, “business as usual” practice.

Arnold Aprill is executive director, Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE). He is coeditor, with Gail Burnaford and Cynthia Weiss, of a new book, Renaissance in the Classroom: Arts Integration and Meaningful Learning (Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers, in press, Mahwah, New Jersey).