Teacher Education for the Arts Disciplines

Consortium of National Arts Education Associations

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


Issues Raised by the
National Standards for Arts Education

March 1996

Copyright © 1996 Music Educators National Conference for the Consortium of National Arts Education Associations

Writing and editorial services provided by Bruce O. Boston, Wordsmith, Inc.

National Standards for Arts Education and additional materials relating to the Standards are available from Music Educators National Conference, 1806 Robert Fulton Drive, Reston VA 20191-4348 (telephone 800-336-3768)

The voluntary K-12 National Standards for Arts Education are functioning in teaching and policy situations throughout the nation. In keeping with their purpose as goalsetters, the standards clearly have broad impact. This document has been produce d to help all individuals, agencies, organizations, and educational institutions concerned with teacher preparation assess this impact on their own work. It represents a comprehensive set of baseline questions rather than a new set of standards. It is off ered with the understanding that answers will differ from place to place because each situation is different. It provides a framework for the application of local expertise. It recognizes that national accomplishments in arts education and teacher prepara tion result from the aggregate of individual efforts. In short, its intent is to serve rather than to direct.


The release of the National Standards for Arts Education in March 1994 has created new contexts for both policy and teaching in arts education. Like most milestones, the Standards are both a culmination and a beginning. From a policy point of view , they are first of all the result of a long engagement by the arts education community with art, teaching, and the concerns of education reform. In this sense, they are the fruit of the continuing struggle to provide the arts their rightful place in the curriculum.

The Standards demonstrate that an education in the arts involves academic rigor and integrity. The overwhelming implication of the Standards is that the content of the arts disciplines is the life blood of arts education–what students should actually know and be able to do. Thus, the Standards are not a means of coercion but a set of goals for developing individual capabilities.

If the Standards are now to inform arts education policy and give shape to content in the classroom, they must inform teaching and the process by which teachers are prepared for their work. Students cannot be expected to learn what their teachers do not know. The substance and rigor expected of students of the arts must therefore be preceded and paralleled by a commensurate focus on substance and rigor in regard to the act of teaching. Academic training and professional development must enable tea chers in the arts disciplines to demonstrate this competence.

The briefest reflection tells why. Despite the widespread cliche about the “systemic reform” inherent in academic standards in the arts (and elsewhere), no set of arts standards for students can, in and of itself, create change. The Standards are not a manual; they point in the direction of intermediate and end states. They are “what” statements, not “how” statements. Now that arts standards for students have raised the visibility of educational content beyond ignoring, standards for teachers and teaching need a fresh look; this job cannot be left half finished.

The basic reality undergirding standards at every level of education is the knowledge and skills to be imparted to children. Measurable achievement comes when students and teachers work together in an environment in which their engagement is shape d by clear descriptions of what is expected from both. The National Standards for Arts Education now provide that statement of expectation for students (see figure A). At the same time, a series of standards has long been in place for teachers in each of the arts disciplines of dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts and design. 1 Because all of these standards are derived from the content of the arts disciplines themselves, there is a congruence of both expectation and purpose.

The major task now facing arts education is to apply the content of these teaching standards to a new level of aspiration for all K-12 students. That task must also be met by each institution, organization, or governing body concerned w ith teacher preparation. Each must address a number of questions:

  • Does the adoption of arts education standards change the answer(s) to the question “Who should teach?” If so, how?
  • Are teacher preparation programs and the competencies required in the several arts disciplines sufficient to equip new teachers? If not, what changes will have to be made?
  • What relationships between higher education and state and local education agencies must be created, reformed, or dismantled to ensure a continuous stream of competent teachers? For example, what is the likely impact of the Arts Standards on state cert ification requirements?
  • What are the implications of the Arts Standards for professional development and continuing education of all teachers involved in arts instruction?
  • How are issues of accountability to be framed in legislatures, local school districts, and institutions of higher education?

Changes in thinking about policy. Before turning to a discussion of the major implications raised by the emphasis on content inherent in the Standards, it will be helpful to place these changes in the overall context of education policy .
There are four main points.

First, the promulgation of standards (not just in the arts but in all subject areas) as a lead item on the nation’s education reform agenda means that the educational ante has been raised considerably. National, discipline-centered sta ndards now provide a critical reference point for state-level standards. They also create the means to define what constitutes an “arts education” in one state congruently with “arts education” in others, all the while preserving working room for creative approaches to teaching and learning.

To be sure, because the student standards are voluntary, the states retain their traditional control and accountability at the point of implementation. But, for states and localities, the stakes are now both different and higher. If student perfor mance lags in one of the “core subject areas” specified in the National Education Goals, policy makers may well be called to account by parents, teachers, and voters. This new litmus test will change the accountability discussion in ways that have yet to be sorted out. In any event, standards, including those in the arts, will change certain aspects of what teachers teach, and thus how they are themselves educated.

Second, the Standards will encourage states, localities, and teachers to move toward greater, not less, comprehensiveness in their arts programming. Because the Standards promote basic knowledge and skills in dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts, they also indicate that teachers will need to focus on not just the interested and the talented, but on all students. This double shift toward comprehensiveness is likely to be reinforced by the administration of an arts component in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), scheduled for 1997. States where poor student performance is uncovered will be encouraged–perhaps even pressured–to move in the direction of more program support.

Third, the Standards will reinforce productive efforts already underway. Many districts find that, even though “world class standards” in arts ed
ucation have taken on substance as policy goals, teachers and administrators often lack the resources to implement the Standards in their entirety. But that does not mean giving up before one starts. Indeed, a graduated approach makes good sense. The Standards are not intended to take effect like a piece of legislation in toto as of midnight on a certain date. In many places, securing a long-term commitment to implementing the Standards piecemeal will be an important feature of their eventual impact and success. Teachers imbued with artistic competence and educational vision are critical to thi s long-term effort. To keep their courage high and energy flowing, those with a stake in arts education may want to recall that the development of arts programs in schools has been a grassroots operation from its very beginnings. The initiative has come largely from teachers, parents, business people, and concerned members of local communities.

The long-term effect is, more and more, that the arts are being viewed as a part of basic education. Recent commentary from Ernest A. Boyer surrounding the publication of his report The Basic School (1995)2 reinforces the poi nt. Boyer insists that the “crucial components” of the basic school “are the basic tools of learning–English, mathematics, and ‘the language of the arts’–as well as a core of knowledge and measuring results.” Standards, he further avers, are part of the basic school, and are linked there directly to instruction. 3

Fourth, promulgation of the Arts Standards and the inclusion of the arts in the National Education Goals have significantly and permanently altered the place of the arts in K-12 education. Great gains have been made for arts content. M any more voices from the business, labor, higher education, and political communities have been raised at the national level on behalf of serious study. In the end, however, there is always the danger that recognition or adoption of arts standards will le ad to a false sense of security. This must not be permitted to happen.

Each of these developments will bear on teacher preparation. Increased expectations for students will require teachers to address new challenges of both content and process. The pressure for more comprehensiveness in arts education will produce ne w emphases on teacher preparation curricula. Teacher preparation institutions will play a primary role in mixing and balancing productive traditions with new aspirations and needs.

It is with this fluid context as a backdrop that this essay moves to its main focus: the issues that the Standards raise for teaching. Bear in mind, however, that the message here is intended for a wider audience than teachers or school administr ators. It is also intended for the decision makers whose major responsibility, in light of arts education standards for students, is the movement from “what?” to “how?” It is intended, as well, for parents, who have a stake in their children’s education a nd the role of the arts in it, and for citizens at large, who have a stake in the quality of this nation’s schools.


Assertions and Questions

Four core issues set the terms for the policy discussion about teacher preparation and how the National Standards for Arts Education will be implemented: (1) the content focus for teachers, (2) what happens to teacher education, (3) professional d evelopment for teachers, and (4) responsibility and accountability.

There are also ancillary concerns, such as the relationship of the teacher to the education system, depth versus breadth, the use of time as a crucial instructional resource, and the use of technology in teaching art. This essay will have one or m ore assertions to make about each of these. Each assertion is followed by a series of questions designed to help decision makers begin with fundamental issues. 4 The questions provided here, therefore, presume no “right” answers, only that thos e concerned have a stake in answering them, and that people are prepared to work on them.

The Content Focus for Teachers

Among the most significant achievements of the Arts Standards is that they place the content of the arts disciplines at the core of arts education. The scope and comprehensiveness of the Arts Standards in dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts mean that teachers will be teaching a larger body of content, and to a wider range of students, than they may have been accustomed to teaching.

Given the goals of the Standards, new choices will have to he made and existing choices reconsidered. But while the specific content of the arts disciplines in specific school curricula may change, the focus on content will remain stead y. (This fact raises, of course, important issues of assessment, because assessment by its very nature must conform to what is taught.)

The introduction to the Standards document points to these truths, all of which have a profound content dimension.

The Standards insist on the following:

  • That an arts education is not a hit-or-miss effort but a sequenced and comprehensive enterprise of learning across four arts disciplines [i.e., in regard to content], thus ensuring that basic arts literacy is a consequence of education in the United S tates;
  • That instruction in the arts take a ‘hands-on’ orientation, i.e., that students be continually involved in the work, practice, and study required for effective and creative engagement in all four arts disciplines;
  • That students learn about the diverse cultural and historical heritages of the arts. The focus of these Standards is on the global and the universal, not the localized and the particular;
  • That arts education can lead to interdisciplinary study; achieving standards involves authentic connections among and across the arts and other disciplines;
  • That the transforming power of technology is a force not only in the economy but in the arts as well. The arts teach relationships between the use of essential technical means and the achievement of desired ends. The intellectual methods of the arts a re precisely those used to transform scientific discovery into technology;
  • That across the board and as a pedagogical focus, the development of the problem-solving and higher-order thinking skills necessary for success in life and work are taken seriously; and
  • That taken together, these Standards offer, for the first time in American arts education, a foundation for educational assessment on a student-by-student basis.5

These features, it is argued, will advance both quality and accountability to the levels that students, schools, and taxpayers deserve. They will help this nation compete in a world where the ability to produce continuing streams of creative solut ions has become the key to success.


Every artform is a distinct body of knowledge and skills involving creation and performance, history, analysis, and the interaction among all of these in specific works of art or scholarship.


  • What, specifically, are the fundamental knowledge and skills needed by those preparing to teach each arts discipline in terms of the K-12 National Standards?
  • To what extent does the answer to the above question change, depending on the projected career path or the teaching situation of the individual teacher?
  • What competencies will we expect beyond fundamentals?
  • To what extent will we develop abilities to interrelate creation, performance, history, and analysis in a range of artistic and scholarly work within a single arts discipline?
  • What balance will we strike between specific competencies within a given arts discipline and representative knowledge and competencies across the arts disciplines?


The art of teaching the arts means far more than ge
tting students to see the arts as “nice” or “fun.” It means providing them with in-depth access to the content of the arts as academic disciplines.


  • In light of the Standards, what content elements of the teacher preparation process, in terms of the arts disciplines themselves, now require more focus or attention (e.g., basic and advanced skills in creation, performance, analysis, and integrat ion; knowledge of historical, analytical, and cultural dimensions; breadth of knowledge across the arts)?
  • In light of the Standards, what content elements, in terms of other disciplines, now require more, or less, focus or attention?


Results in any classroom are generated in the interactions, around specific content, among students, the subject matter, and the teacher.


  • What content must a teacher know, first to plan, and then to guide, this interaction, in order to lead students to the specific competencies outlined in the National Standards?
  • How do the Standards affect issues of content, scope, and sequence in the curricula teachers will be expected to develop and teach, both now and in the future?
  • What knowledge and skills are required to create units of instruction within such curricula?
  • In making instructional choices, what level of competence do we expect with such complex operations as correlating specific content with the inherent breadth of one or more arts disciplines, making connections between means and ends in artistic and sc holarly projects, and building lesson sequences that develop knowledge and skills over time?
  • To what extent are we helping teachers understand and use instructional techniques that serve disciplinary content?

What Happens in Teacher Education?

In any educational arena, a variety of people contribute to the arts education of a single student. Not all those individuals will have achieved full acquaintance with all the arts disciplines. Normally, however, professional arts teachers will ha ve achieved competence in at least one. But clearly, all who teach the arts do not necessarily measure up to all of the standards against which those who are taught are measured. The instructional implication here is straightforward: for the foreseeable f uture, an arts education that meets the National Standards will be the product of a collective effort.

The facts are daunting. At the elementary level, the reality is that the educational priorities of most school districts preclude the availability of enough arts specialist teachers in all the disciplines. Even when they are available, some specia lists are able to spend only an average of 30-40 minutes every two weeks with each class. This is not enough time to teach what the Arts Standards are asking for. Moreover, the result of these budgetary priorities is an arts education chiefly c haracterized by “appreciation,” “exposure,” and what detractors call “feel-good arts,” instead of serious attention to academic content and skill development. This attenuation is heightened by the economics of public schooling and the not unrealistic fear of arts specialists that elementary teachers will replace them.

Too often, however, debates over turf tend to obscure the real issue: the Standards now make it possible to supplant such labels as “specialist” and “classroom teacher” with a focus on competence in the subject matter, not some professi onal designation. The difficulty, of course, is that the range of preparation and experience of teachers in the arts is both vast and uneven, often within the same school district and even the same school.


For teachers to help students meet the requirements of the Standards successfully, four things must happen in and for teachers:

(1) They should themselves be competent exemplars of the context and skills they are teaching. At a minimum, teachers ought to he able to meet the K-12 National Standards.

(2) They should he able to teach from the base of their own knowledge and skills, not merely model or present prefabricated lessons.

(3) They should he able to lead, in the sense of being able to provide content-based guidance to the uninitiated, the beginner, and the advanced student.

(4) They should be able to learn and develop on their own in the primary disciplinary fields associated with their work.


  • Are the mission and goals of our undergraduate teacher preparation programs consistent with the aspirations for K-12 achievement inherent in the Standards?
  • How is each competency expressed in the Standards addressed within and across the components of our teacher preparation curriculum for each arts discipline?
  • Is curricular time and weight allocated to courses in the specific arts discipline, general studies, and professional education adequate to achieve the requisite artistic, intellectual, and pedagogical competencies?
  • What expectations do we have for developing competence and capacity for artistic educational leadership in the classroom, with various types of groups, and in the community at large?
  • How should our programs promote, by requirement and example, the “habits of mind” necessary for performance and growth of a teacher?


Teacher preparation institutions cannot do the whole job alone. Their work influences and is influenced by the policies, priorities, practices, and traditions of school systems, education agencies, and teacher organizations.


  • How should our higher education-school relationships be changed to raise expectations for the disciplinary competencies of new hires and the criteria for promotion?
  • How can we influence education agencies, higher education, and the schools we work with most to maintain student learning of arts content, as indicated in the Standards, as the first consideration of arts education?
  • How can we influence the relationship of higher education and practicing arts education professionals in favor of continuous development toward K-12 programs and teacher education programs that regularly meet the goals of the Standards?
  • How can we help new and developing arts teachers gain capabilities to contribute productively in addressing the three previous questions throughout their professional lives?

Professional Development for Teachers

Improvement of arts education for all K-12 students in terms of the Standards cannot be achieved without consistent and vigorous attention to professional development. This point for all disciplines was powerfully reinforced by the addition to the original National Education Goals-added, may it be said, after teachers had a chance to respond to the original six-goal formulation. Goal 7 is: “The nation’s teaching force will have access to programs for the continued improvement of their knowledge an d skills, and the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skill needed to instruct and prepare all Americans for the next century.”

While such national pronouncements reflect consensus about needs, organization-based responsibility for professional development lies largely in the hands of state and local education agencies and professional education associations in the arts. T he following assertions and questions are therefore directed largely to them, with the understanding that primary responsibility for personal growth remains with individual teachers themselves.


The implementation and success of the National Standards for Arts Education will rest largely on the success of professional development for teachers seeking to implement them.


  • How are our professional
    development programs providing teachers with the additional tools they need for advancing personal mastery in artistic and intellectual independence, both in the arts disciplines and in the art of teaching?
  • How are we helping teachers assess and prioritize their professional development needs in various arts disciplines and in pedagogical skills?
  • How can our professional development programs maintain a focus on arts content while addressing technical, methodological, and contextual issues?
  • How can our professional development programs promote informed creativity in leading K-12 students to the competencies outlined in the Standards? For example, how do we help teachers to: (a) motivate students with different learning styles, (b) bring research findings into appropriate relationships with curricular objectives, (c) push the boundaries of discovery, and (d) find pedagogical alternatives?
  • How are we helping teachers to develop intellectual techniques such as compilation, synthesis, observation, analysis, and evaluation?
  • How are our approaches helping teachers lead, collaborate with, and learn from full-time artists and others in the arts in ways that foster student achievement in terms of the Standards?
  • How are we helping teachers become more sophisticated about when and how to mix disciplinary, multidisciplinary, and interdisciplinary approaches, both in their work with students and in their own professional development?


Professional development in arts education requires more and stronger advocacy at state and local levels to show it as the critical variable in successful implementation of the Standards. Teacher development programs that begin and end with sess ions on “What the Standards Say,” but do not address such crucial areas as skill development, critical aesthetic faculties, and deepened knowledge about the arts disciplines themselves, cannot make the Standards effective.


  • What role should higher education/education agency partnerships play in enhancing the learning of content and the development of pedagogical skills, the better to help classroom teachers enable their students to meet the Standards?
  • To what extent are institutions of higher education, states, and localities promoting professional development in the arts for classroom teachers that focuses on the specific knowledge and skills outlined in the Standards?
  • To what extent can we use salary increases, increased professional development opportunities, status rewards, and recognition as stimuli for professional advancement in arts education?
  • To what extent should institutions of higher education, states, and localities promote local and regional workshops that give full-time artists and full-time teachers opportunities to work together, particularly to encourage teachers who are not artis ts or arts specialists to work with those who are?
  • How can all involved make productive use of the following additional resources for professional development in arts education, while keeping the focus on student learning of arts content as outlined in the National Standards?
    • master teachers
    • research on professional development
    • partnership relationships with local arts and cultural organizations
    • professional development ideas from other fields, levels, and types of education
  • Are our institutions of higher education, states, and localities developing and promoting policies that focus teacher certification, employment, and advancement on demonstrated competence in subject matter, or do criteria in these areas tend to focus on compliance with procedural requirements?

Responsibility and Accountability for Meeting the Standards

Accountability and responsibility for developing the teaching force to lead students to competence with arts content means developing serious answers to this question: “What do institutions and individuals have to do to meet the Standards, and how will they demonstrate convincingly that they have done so?” This question must be answered in light of an insight often overlooked: In meeting the Standards, the time spent by teachers and students on content that produces knowledge and skills is more im portant than time spent on demonstrating them; constantly pulling up the carrot to see if it is growing is not productive.

Further, an insistence in most venues on reckoning responsibility and accountability only in the form of some number (e.g., improvements in grades and test scores, graduation rates) runs the persistent risk that subject matter, performance, and sk ill development in complex operations will take a backseat to more readily quantifiable changes. The variety of accountability systems now in place for various educational structures and operations sufficiently demonstrates that there is no “one-size-fits -all” solution to the accountability problem. Creative, local solutions must be developed to support the achievement of broad, national goals. Teacher expertise is central to this effort.

At the institutional level, the most comprehensive and most rigorous teacher education standards in the arts disciplines are those of the arts accreditors-the National Association of Schools of Dance, the National Association of Schools of Music, the National Association of Schools of Theatre, and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. All their standards are consistent with the K-12 national student standards and with the statements of professional teacher organizations in the various fields (i.e., the American Alliance for Theatre & Education, the Music Educators National Conference, the National Art Education Association, and the National Dance Association).

General accreditation of programs that prepare teachers is done by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, which relies on and cooperates with the arts accreditors. The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Ed ucation Certification also maintains general standards for its members. In addition, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has for some years been working on national standards for advanced teacher certification in various fields, includi ng the arts.

These bodies are important policy influences, and the plain fact is that responsibility and accountability structures for successful implementation of the Standards must retain their enthusiastic cooperation. Those who take student learning in the arts seriously will need to impress on each of these bodies the importance of addressing the K-12 Arts Standards as appropriate to their respective missions.

Nor can effective accountability structures be built without the participation, at the policy level, of the state education agencies. The states take a variety of approaches to accountability, and each one guards its role jealously. In general, ho wever, the variety in accountability at the state level results in a predictable unevenness in the quality of these programs. The continuing battle in many states to keep state certification standards for teachers in the arts well focused on content is te stimony to the chronic nature of this problem. If the Arts Standards are to matter, this problem will have to be solved.

At the level of individual responsibility and accountability for teachers, gatekeeping occurs at several levels: admission, retention and graduation from teacher preparation programs, individual certification by state bodies, pay scales and merit systems, permanent certification, and professional recognition. These forms of responsibility and accountability are but a minimal threshold however. The capabilities of a good arts teacher in any arts discipline go far beyond degree requiremen ts or performance on step-level examinations. Among the most important accountability considerations are those that go to qualitative issues: competence in the art a
nd practice of pedagogy combined with commitment to a high level of personal excellence, a chievement, and initiative.

Here, the nature of evaluation in the arts disciplines has much to contribute. In every arts discipline, constant evaluation is intrinsic to the commitment of its practitioners and shapes the creative process. Artistic evaluation is also by its na ture more holistic, it sees individual components of the “work in progress,” which in this case is the teacher as teacher, as part of a larger whole. A key requirement of individual responsibility and accountability in light of the content focus of the St andards, therefore, will necessarily place the evaluation of specific teacher competencies in the context of larger, more holistic frames of reference.


The central issues of responsibility and accountability lie at a deeper level than answering the question of whether teachers are well prepared to do their jobs, or questions about how individual teachers are functioning, as broadened as tho se questions have been here. The driving question is: “How do we create approaches to accountability that help teachers accomplish what the Standards indicate they should accomplish?”


  • Is our specific conception of arts education based on the Standards? Is it sufficiently clear in the expectations it sets forth for developing knowledge and skills? Does it provide a solid basis for evaluating the work of teachers?
  • To what extent is our assessment approach consistent with the nature of the arts and the nature of the K-12 National Standards, all of which exemplify capabilities in using basic components to build complex, unique works of arts, scholarship, and educ ational achievement?
  • How does each element of our teacher evaluation process contribute to teacher influences on student achievement, as measured by the Standards?
  • To what extent do our accountability approaches encourage the individual teacher to maintain a personal and professional responsibility for his or her art form, to continue to develop his or her capabilities as a part of the larger artistic and intell ectual community, and to take an active role in the development and evaluation of curricula and teaching methods used to produce student competence in terms of the Standards?


Accountability mechanisms must be conceived judiciously and used carefully, lest they become more important than the content they are intended to serve. Values and their impact on policy are crucial factors in maintaining approaches to accountabi lity that mix the rigor and creativity central to work in the arts.


  • Among the vast array of subject matter and creative possibilities present in the arts disciplines, and represented in the National Standards, to what extent do our accountability policies and mechanisms preserve local and individual choice?
  • How can we monitor our accountability expectations and procedures to make sure they remain primarily tools for development rather than mechanisms for standardization and punitive action?
  • How can we ensure that our assessment approaches serve, rather than drive, goals for teaching and learning?
  • How do we weigh teacher performance in terms of institutionalized preparation and development on the one hand and individual vision and initiative on the other?
  • How will our evaluation procedures deal with the issue of students with talents and special gifts?
  • What are we doing to ensure that our assessment techniques promote experimentation, creativity, and individual initiative?

Again, the beginning of an answer to these questions lies in the content focus of the Standards themselves. The Standards are about what students should know and be able to do. Thus, in the final analysis, it is to their students that teachers are responsible and accountable when it comes to attaining the Standards.


Assertions and Questions

The Teacher and the System

In assuring that teacher standards are commensurate with new expectations for students, one of the most important facts to bear in mind is one that is all to often overlooked: In arts education, we already know what works, both for teaching stu dents and for preparing teachers. Good arts education programs and good teachers are already “out there” in all the arts disciplines. Thus, the realization of standards for students is not so much a matter of teachers doing new things as it is doi ng better the things they already know how to do.

In many cases, however, doing so may well require a fresh look at the relationship between the individual teacher and the school system. The most successful arts education occurs where teacher and system take responsibility for one another. The te acher acts from a professional commitment to be, and to continue to become, the best teacher possible. He or she supports the system’s mission, goals, and objectives and understands teaching in that institutional context. From their side, the system’s dec ision makers and administrators support the teacher’s professional growth as a matter of sound policy, and as an investment in both educational excellence and in the future of the children entrusted to them; in short, the system figures out how to let goo d teachers teach.

As implementation of the Arts Standards proceeds, new educational models will doubtless be created. This is all to the good. But with them comes the temptation to believe that models, and not good teaching, are the source of excellence. This tempt ation must be resisted. Good teaching can produce sound education irrespective of its packaging, whereas no amount of changes in the packaging can succeed without sound instruction. By the same token, arts educators need to remember that one cannot make a model out of every bright idea or innovative practice that appears on the horizon. It is individual teaching and craft linked to content that deliver educational results. Among the most important functions of teaching standards, therefore, is the contribution they make to the creative blend of the teaching practitioner’s art, new models and structures, and the continuing needs of the system.


Implementing the Standards will cause a reevaluation of the relationship between the teacher and the system, and teachers must be able to work productively in these varying contexts.


  • What impact do the new Arts Standards have on both teachers and systems? To what extent are both operating from the same understanding of the Standards and the same sets of expectations about system mission and goals?
  • To what extent do teachers and systems have the same understanding about what is “right” with existing programming and pedagogy, and what needs to be changed in light of the Standards?
  • What are the implications of the answers to the first two questions for both teacher preparation and professional development?
  • What knowledge and skills are needed by arts teachers if they are to lead and contribute to system decisions in favor of the competencies indicated in the Standards?
  • How can we influence policies to ensure that they are consistent with the professional development practice required to implement standards for students and teachers?

Depth versus Breadth

The Standards raise a serious depth versus breadth issue for all arts teachers. Indeed, they create the classic instructional trade-off, all the more striking in the arts because of the vast body of possible knowledge and skills. Meeting the Stand ards will require students to attend to both breadth and depth, but they will depend on the knowledge and perspective of their teachers to provide a healthy instruct
ional balance between the two. In many respects the instructional boundaries here are circ umscribed by continuing choices about levels of content (creation, performance, history, analysis) and levels of engagement by students. The relationships can best be described by a matrix (see figure B).6

Teachers thus have four basic choices when choosing levels of engagement and content for specific examples, lessons, and curricula as a whole. In many cases, the choices made will reflect the level of preparation of the teacher, but they will also reflect such factors as system priorities, specific instructional objectives, and the requirements of the Standards. Here is one example based on music repertory:

Shallow Content/Shallow Engagement: Casual listening to elementally simple music (i.e., in terms of the basic elements of melody, rhythm, harmony, developmental attributes, and formal structure)

Deep Content/Shallow Engagement: Casual listening to elementally complex music

Shallow Content/Deep Engagement: Performance/study of elementally simple music

Deep Content/Deep Engagement: Performance/study of elementally complex music


Teacher preparation institutions and professional development activities should take direct cognizance of the shallow/deep-content/engagement matrix in training teachers to help students meet the Standards.


  • To what extent do our expectations regarding content and engagement in teacher preparation and development coincide with what teachers need if they are to be effective in terms of the Standards?
  • To what extent do our teacher preparation and development efforts enable teachers to make effective site– and class-specific decisions about content and engagement in all aspects of their work?
  • To what extent do our teacher preparation and development efforts enable teachers to plan so that the aggregate of these decisions over time fulfills larger instructional aims?
  • How do our approaches to content and engagement counter minimalism and “teaching (only) to the Standards?”

Time and Sustained Energy

The school curriculum is filled to overflowing by escalating demands for instructional time. This pressure does not come from academic subjects only. All manner of advocates regularly descend on school boards and state education agencies to bend t he curriculum to their purposes, always with a highly plausible rationale that produces not just options but, in many cases, legislative mandates.

But time is a finite resource that cannot be infinitely divided. The report of the National Education Commission on Time and Learning, Prisoners of Time, has characterized this conundrum as a “fundamental design flaw” in American educat ion. Priorities are on the wrong foot, the Commission argues:


An arts education that meets student standards needs to be conducted for a long enough period of time to actually take root and grow; in consequence, because time is a key issue for instruction, teacher preparation programs need to focus on time management as a key issue.


  • How is time allotted in our teacher preparation curricula and teacher development programs? To what extent are such allotments likely to support the later instructional competencies needed of arts teachers?
  • What lesson about priorities is provided to teachers by choices made about the amount of time spent on artistic substance and content in teacher preparation programs, as compared to other parts of the teacher preparation curriculum? What does this les son teach about the value of the arts as serious subject matter?
  • What kind of preparation do our teachers get in organizing and managing the varying amounts of time needed to meet specific student standards?
  • What insights and resources do we make available to teachers to assist them in enabling arts students to understand and use the varying amounts of time required to master skills and content in the arts disciplines?


It is now commonplace (as it was not in the times of Shakespeare, Mozart, Nijinksy, or van Gogh) that the technology of arts disciplines can–and does–change radically in the lifetime of a given artist or teacher in the arts. As the Standards poi nt out:

Existing and emerging technologies will always be a part of how changes in the arts disciplines are created, viewed, and taught. Examples abound. In ancient times, sculptors used hardened metals to chisel wood and marble blocks; today they us e acetylene torches to work in metal itself. The modern ballet slipper was a technological advance that emerged in the late nineteenth century; today it is complemented by the dancer’s use of variable-resistance exercise equipment. Stradivarius once used simple charcoal and paper to design his violins; today’s manufacturers use computers to design electronic instruments. The theatre, once limited to the bare stage, has found important resources for creating dramatic productions in such technologies as rad io, film, television, and other electronic media.8

But in the end, as the Standards recognize, the value of technology to arts instruction lies in its contribution to competence; competence comes through instruction and study; instruction and study ensue from a relationship with a teacher. If new technologies are to lead to new artistic possibilities and solutions, it is increasingly important that these tools be used in teaching the arts and teachers of the arts. Computers, videotaping, interactive video, MIDI technology, computer-assisted design and modeling (CAD-CAM), and a host of other technologies not only provide instantaneous feedback that supports artistic development, they extend both the reach and the range of the artist or student of the arts. These technologies can also have a signifi cant impact on the development of creative thinking skills. The challenge to teachers of the arts is not merely to gain familiarity with these technologies, but to make sure students are well guided toward worthwhile artistic ends.


Success in the use of technology in arts education should be measured first by how well artistic and intellectual objectives are enhanced, not simply by technological skills. Technology should increase the ability to synthesize, integrate, and co nstruct new meanings from a wealth of new resources and information.


  • How effective are our efforts to prepare and develop teachers to work with current and future technologies, as they relate to creation, performance, analysis, teaching, and research?
  • What approaches are we using to help teachers develop the competence to understand and make appropriate choices about technical means and artistic and intellectual ends in all aspects of helping students to meet the Standards?
  • In developing effective and efficient approaches for teacher preparation and development, to what extent are we engaging teachers who are experienced with technological applications for arts instruction?


A great deal remains to be done if all K-12 students are to meet the Arts Standards. For one thing, a larger number of teachers must become effective instruments in their students’ success. There will be obstacles, but if children are to be provid ed with the deepening dimension that the arts can give to their education, those difficulties must be met and overcome. The connections between the arts, culture, and the “educated human being” that schools need to be producing must be forged anew in each new generation. The Arts Standards offer an opportunity to take up that task once more, to make the arts integral to the renewed effort to build individual capacity through education.

The problem lies not
in a lack of knowledge about what to do about the Arts Standards, or even how to do it. The problem lies in generating the energy and will to move from aspirations and a high degree of clarity about the desired results for stu dents on the one hand, to a focused commitment to acquiring resources adequate to the task on the other. It means, too, redirecting attention. But more than that, it means a shift in values, in the climate of opinions, attitudes, and indeed, the beliefs t hat support the American educational system. If the Arts Standards can foster that kind of process, they will have accomplished much more than having provided benchmarks for student performance. They will have given young people a head start on a better f uture. And that can only be a good thing.


1. See National Association of Schools of Dance Handbook, 1994-95, 31-66; National Association of Schools of Music Handbook, 1995-96, 49-132; National Association of Schools of Theatre Handbook, 1994-95, 35-79; an d National Association of Schools of Art and Design Handbook, 1995-96, 48-124. The handbooks are published by each association through the National Office for Arts Accreditation in Higher Education, 11250 Roger Bacon Drive, Reston, VA 20190.
2. Ernest A. Boyer, The Basic School: A Community for Learning (Washington, DC: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Learning, 1995).
3. Press release, Carnegie Endowment for the Advancement of Learning (Washington, DC, April 19, 1995).
4. These questions should be asked by anyone with a decision-making role in teacher education (e.g., faculty and administration in higher education, state education agencies, accreditation and other accountability organizations, school boards, t eacher organizations).
5. Consortium of National Arts Education Associations, National Standards for Arts Education (Reston, VA: MENC, 1994),10.
6. Harold M. Best, “Musical Perception and Music Education,” Arts Education Policy Review 96, no. 4 (March/April 1995), 2-9.
7. National Education Commission on Time and Learning, Prisoners of Time (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1994), 7.
8. Consortium of National Arts Education Associations, 14.


American Alliance for Theatre & Education. Teacher Preparation and Certification Standards. Tempe, AZ: AATE, 1989.
Boyer, Ernest A. The Basic School: A Community for Learning. Washington, DC: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Learning, 1995.
Consortium of National Arts Education Associations. National Standards for Arts Education: What Every Young American Should Know and Be Able to Do in the Arts. Reston, VA: Music Educators National Conference, 1994.
Corcoran, Thomas B. “Helping Teachers Teach Well: Transforming Professional Development” (CPRE Policy Briefs No. RB-16-6/95). New Brunswick, NJ: Center for Policy Research in Education, June 1995.
Music Educators National Conference. Music Teacher Education: Partnership and Process. Reston, VA: MENC, 1987.
Music Educators National Conference. The School Music Program-A New Vision: The K-12 National Standards, PreK Standards, and What They Mean to Music Educators. Reston, VA: MENC, 1994.
National Art Education Association. The National Visual Arts Standards. Reston, VA: NAEA, 1994.
National Association of Schools of Art and Design Handbook, 1995-96. Reston, VA: NASAD, 1995.
National Association of Schools of Dance Handbook, 1994-95. Reston, VA: NASD, 1994.
National Association of Schools of Music Handbook, 1995-96. Reston, VA: NASM, 1995.
National Association of Schools of Theatre Handbook, 1994-95. Reston, VA: NAST, 1994.
National Dance Association. National Standards for Dance Education. Reston, VA: American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 1995.
National Education Commission on Time and Learning. Prisoners of Time. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1994.
Shuler, Scott C. “The Impact of National Standards on the Preparation, In-Service Professional Development, and Assessment of Music Teachers,” Arts Education Policy Review (January/February 1995): 2-14.
Working Group in the Arts on Higher Education. Teacher Education in the Arts Disciplines. Reston, VA: National Office for Arts Accreditation in Higher Education, 1987


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


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


American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
Association of Teacher Educators
The College Music Society
International Council of Fine Arts Deans



The Standards represent a consensus view of educators from professional associations in arts education about what constitutes a good education in dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts. They are not rules but guidelines, not regulations but be nchmarks, not compulsory but voluntary. They are shaped by the well-validated educational principle that students respond to the level of expectation set before them.

Structurally, the Standards address learning in three stages: K-4, 5-8, and 9-12. Both content standards (what students should know) and achievement standards (what students should be able to do) are provided. In sum, the Standards point broadly to five areas:

– Students 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.

– Students 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.

– Students 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 vario us arts disciplines.

– Students 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 .

– Students should be able to relate various t~pes 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-relate d project.

Reprinted from Consortium of National Arts Education Associations, National Standards for Arts Education (Reston, VA: Music Educators National Conference, 1994), 18-19.