Summary Statement: What Students Should Know and Be Able to Do in the Arts

What Students Should Know and Be Able to Do in the Arts

There are many routes to competence in the arts disciplines. Students may work in different arts at different times. Their study may take a variety of approaches. Their abilities may develop at different rates. Competence means the ability to use an array of knowledge and skills. Terms often used to describe these include creation, performance, production, history, culture, perception, analysis, criticism, aesthetics, technology, and appreciation. Competence means capabilities with these elements themselves and an understanding of their interdependence; it also means the ability to combine the content, perspectives, and techniques associated with the various elements to achieve specific artistic and analytical goals. Students work toward comprehensive competence from the very beginning, preparing in the lower grades for deeper and more rigorous work each succeeding year. As a result, the joy of experiencing the arts is enriched and matured by the discipline of learning and the pride of accomplishment. Essentially, the Standards ask that students should know and be able to do the following by the time they have completed secondary school:

  • They should be able to communicate at a basic level in the four arts disciplines—dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts. This includes knowledge and skills in the use of the basic vocabularies, materials, tools, techniques, and intellectual methods of each arts discipline.
  • They should be able to communicate proficiently in at least one art form, including the ability to define and solve artistic problems with insight, reason, and technical proficiency.
  • They should be able to develop and present basic analyses of works of art from structural, historical, and cultural perspectives, and from combinations of those perspectives. This includes the ability to understand and evaluate work in the various arts disciplines.
  • They should have an informed acquaintance with exemplary works of art from a variety of cultures and historical periods, and a basic understanding of historical development in the arts disciplines, across the arts as a whole, and within cultures.
  • They should be able to relate various types of arts knowledge and skills within and across the arts disciplines. This includes mixing and matching competencies and understandings in art-making, history and culture, and analysis in any arts-related project.

As a result of developing these capabilities, students can arrive at their own knowledge, beliefs, and values for making personal and artistic decisions. In other terms, they can arrive at a broad-based, well-grounded understanding of the nature, value, and meaning of the arts as a part of their own humanity.

These National Standards for Arts Education are a statement of what every young American should know and be able to do in four arts disciplines—dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts. Their scope is grades K–12, and they speak to both content and achievement.

Summary Statement

Education Reform, Standards, and the Arts

These National Standards for Arts Education are a statement of what every young American should know and be able to do in four arts disciplines—dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts. Their scope is grades K–12, and they speak to both content and achievement.

The Reform Context. The Standards are one outcome of the education reform effort generated in the 1980s, which emerged in several states and attained nationwide visibility with the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983. This national wake-up call was powerfully effective. Six national education goals were announced in 1990. Now there is a broad effort to describe, specifically, the knowledge and skills students must have in all subjects to fulfill their personal potential, to become productive and competitive workers in a global economy, and to take their places as adult citizens. With the passage of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the national goals are written into law, naming the arts as a core, academic subject—as important to education as English, mathematics, history, civics and government, geography, science, and foreign language.

At the same time, the Act calls for education standards in these subject areas, both to encourage high achievement by our young people and to provide benchmarks to determine how well they are learning and performing. In 1992, anticipating that education standards would emerge as a focal point of the reform legislation, the Consortium of National Arts Education Associations successfully approached the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities for a grant to determine what the nation’s school children should know and be able to do in the arts. This document is the result of an extended process of consensus-building that drew on the broadest possible range of expertise and participation. The process involved the review of state-level arts education frameworks, standards from other nations, and consideration at a series of national forums.

The Importance of Standards. Agreement on what students should know and be able to do is essential if education is to be consistent, efficient, and effective. In this context, Standards for arts education are important for two basic reasons. First, they help define what a good education in the arts should provide: a thorough grounding in a basic body of knowledge and the skills required both to make sense and make use of the arts disciplines. Second, when states and school districts adopt these Standards, they are taking a stand for rigor in a part of education that has too often, and wrongly, been treated as optional. This document says, in effect, an education in the arts means that students should know what is spelled out here, and they should reach clear levels of attainment at these grade levels.

These Standards provide a vision of competence and educational effectiveness, but without creating a mold into which all arts programs must fit. The Standards are concerned with the results (in the form of student learning) that come from a basic education in the arts, not with how those results ought to be delivered. Those matters are for states, localities, and classroom teachers to decide. In other words, while the Standards provide educational goals and not a curriculum, they can help improve all types of arts instruction.

The Importance of Arts Education. Knowing and practicing the arts disciplines are fundamental to the healthy development of children’s minds and spirits. That is why, in any civilization—ours included—the arts are inseparable from the very meaning of the term education. We know from long experience that no one can claim to be truly educated who lacks basic knowledge and skills in the arts. There are many reasons for this assertion:

  • The arts are worth studying simply because of what they are. Their impact cannot be denied. Throughout history, all the arts have served to connect our imaginations with the deepest questions of human existence: Who am I? What must I do? Where am I going? Studying responses to those questions through time and across cultures—as well as acquiring the tools and knowledge to create one’s own responses—is essential not only to understanding life but to living it fully.
  • The arts are used to achieve a multitude of human purposes: to present issues and ideas, to teach or persuade, to entertain, to decorate or please. Becoming literate in the arts helps students understand and do these things better.
  • The arts are integral to every person’s daily life. Our personal, social, economic, and cultural environments are shaped by the arts at every turn—from the design of the child’s breakfast placemat, to the songs on the commuter’s car radio, to the family’s night-time TV drama, to the teenager’s Sa
    turday dance, to the enduring influences of the classics.
  • The arts offer unique sources of enjoyment and refreshment for the imagination. They explore relationships between ideas and objects and serve as links between thought and action. Their continuing gift is to help us see and grasp life in new ways.
  • There is ample evidence that the arts help students develop the attitudes, characteristics, and intellectual skills required to participate effectively in today’s society and economy. The arts teach self-discipline, reinforce self-esteem, and foster the thinking skills and creativity so valued in the workplace. They teach the importance of teamwork and cooperation. They demonstrate the direct connection between study, hard work, and high levels of achievement.

The Benefits of Arts Education.
Arts education benefits the student because it cultivates the whole child, gradually building many kinds of literacy while developing intuition, reasoning, imagination, and dexterity into unique forms of expression and communication. This process requires not merely an active mind but a trained one. An education in the arts benefits society because students of the arts gain powerful tools for understanding human experiences, both past and present. They learn to respect the often very different ways others have of thinking, working, and expressing themselves. They learn to make decisions in situations where there are no standard answers. By studying the arts, students stimulate their natural creativity and learn to develop it to meet the needs of a complex and competitive society. And, as study and competence in the arts reinforce one other, the joy of learning becomes real, tangible, and powerful.

The Arts and Other Core Subjects. The Standards address competence in the arts disciplines first of all. But that competence provides a firm foundation for connecting arts-related concepts and facts across the art forms, and from them to the sciences and humanities. For example, the intellectual methods of the arts are precisely those used to transform scientific disciplines and discoveries into everyday technology.

What Must We Do? The educational success of our children depends on creating a society that is both literate and imaginative, both competent and creative. That goal depends, in turn, on providing children with tools not only for understanding that world but for contributing to it and making their own way. Without the arts to help shape student’s perceptions and imaginations, our children stand every chance of growing into adulthood as culturally disabled. We must not allow that to happen.

Without question, the Standards presented here will need supporters and allies to improve how arts education is organized and delivered. They have the potential to change education policy at all levels, and to make a transforming impact across the entire spectrum of education.

But only if they are implemented.

Teachers, of course, will be the leaders in this process. In many places, more teachers with credentials in the arts, as well as better-trained teachers in general, will be needed. Site-based management teams, school boards, state education agencies, state and local arts agencies, and teacher education institutions will all have a part to play, as will local mentors, artists, local arts organizations, and members of the community. Their support is crucial for the Standards to succeed. But the primary issue is the ability to bring together and deliver a broad range of competent instruction. All else is secondary.

In the end, truly successful implementation can come about only when students and their learning are at the center, which means motivating and enabling them to meet the Standards. With a steady gaze on that target, these Standards can empower America’s schools to make changes consistent with the best any of us can envision, for our children and for our society.

Endorsers and Supporters of the National Standards


The following professional organizations join with the Consortium of National Arts Education Associations in promoting the vision of K-12 arts education as described in the National Standards for Arts Education:

Alliance for Curriculum Reform
American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance
American Arts Alliance
American Association of School Administrators
American Choral Directors Association
American Council for the Arts
American Federation of Musicians of the U.S. and Canada
American Guild of English Handbell Ringers
American Guild of Organists
American Music Conference
American String Teachers Association
American Symphony Orchestra League
ASCAP: American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers
Association of Art Museum Directors
Association of Teacher Educators
Capezio/Ballet Makers Dance Foundation
Chorus America
College Band Directors National Association
The College Board
Council for Basic Education
Educational Theatre Association
Future Business Leaders of America/Phi Beta Lambda, Inc.
Getty Center for Education in the Arts
Guitar and Accessories Marketing Association, Inc.
Industrial Designers Society of America
International Association of Electronic Keyboard Manufacturers
The International Network of Performing and Visual Arts Schools
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Meet the Composer, Inc.
Music Distributors Association
Music Industry Conference
National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Inc.
National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies (NALAA)
National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA)
National Association of Band Instrument Manufacturers
National Association of Elementary School Principals
National Association of Music Merchants
National Association for Music Therapy, Inc.
National Association of Pastoral Musicians, Music Education Division
National Association of School Music Dealers
National Association of Secondary School Principals
National Council of Music Importers and Exporters
National Education Association
National Federation of Music Clubs
National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts
National Movement Theatre Association
National Music Publishers’ Association, Inc.
National Piano Foundation
National School Orchestra Association
North American Goldsmiths
North American Montessori Teachers Association
North American Steel Band Association
OPERA America
Organization of American Kodály Educators
Percussive Arts Society
Piano Manufacturers Association International
Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc.
Sweet Adelines International
United States Amateur Ballroom Dancers Association
The VoiceCare Network Young Audiences, Inc.
Young Audiences, Inc.


The following professional organizations have added their support for the goals and ideals implied in the National Standards for Arts Education:

American Association of Museums
American Bandmasters Association
American Orff-Schulwerk Association
Arts & Business Council, Inc.
ASSITEJ/USA (International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People/United States Center)
Center for Civic Education
Chamber Music America
College Art Association of America
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Dance Notation Bureau
International Council of Fine Arts Deans
International Reading Association
Music Publishers’ Association
Music Teachers National Association
National Alliance for Media Arts & Culture
National Alliance for Musical Theatre
National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors
National Association of Schools of Art and Design
National Association of Schools
of Dance
National Association of Schools of Music
National Association of Schools of Theatre
National Band Association
National Congress of Parents and Teachers
National Council for the Social Studies
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
National League of Cities
National Middle School Association
National School Boards Association
Very Special Arts

National Committee for Standards in the Arts

A. Graham Down, Council for Basic Education, chair

Gordon M. Ambach, Council of Chief State School Officers
Libby Chiu, Boston Conservatory
Bruce Christensen, Brigham Young University
Thad Cochran, U.S. Senator (R – Miss.)
Glenn Connor, Principal, Meeker Elementary, Ames, IA
James F. Cooper, Newington-Cropsey Foundation
James Czarnecki, University of Nebraska
Denis Doyle, Hudson Institute
Leilani Lattin Duke, The Getty Center for Education in the Arts
Harriet Fulbright, Center for Arts in the Basic Curriculum
Keith Geiger, National Education Association
Edward Gero, Actor, Shakespeare Theatre; Director of the Ensemble, George Mason University
Michael Greene, National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Inc.
Richard S. Gurin, Binney & Smith, Inc.
Samuel Hope, National Office for Arts Accreditation in Higher Education
C. James Lawler, C. James Lawler Associates
Barbara Laws, Teacher, Norfolk (VA) Public Schools
Ann Lynch, Humana Hospital Sunrise
Arturo Madrid, Trinity University
Roger Mandle, Rhode Island School of Design
Ellis Marsalis, University of New Orleans
Dave Master, Teacher, La Puente Valley Regional Occupation Program; Rowland High School, Rowland Heights, CA
Konrad Matthaei, United Negro College Fund
Major Owens, U.S. House of Representatives (D – N.Y.)
Joseph Polisi, The Juilliard School
Milton Rhodes, Spoleto Festival
Malcolm L. Richardson, President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities
Shirley Ririe, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company
Albert Shanker, American Federation of Teachers
Richard Wendorf, Houghton Library, Harvard University
James D. Wolfensohn, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

The Arts Standards Project would like to recognize the contributions of Gregory R. Anrig (1991-1993) and Terry Taylor (1946-1994) for their work on the National Committee for Standards in the Arts.

The National Standards for Arts Education were developed by the Consortium of National Arts Education Associations under the guidance of the National Committee for Standards in the Arts. Project Director: John J. Mahlmann

Prepared under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Grantees undertaking such projects are encouraged to express freely their professional judgment. This publication, therefore, does not necessarily represent positions or policies of the Government, and no official endorsement should be inferred.

Consortium of National Arts Education Associations

American Alliance for Theatre & Education
Music Educators National Conference
National Art Education Association
National Dance Association