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Arts Curriculum Framework Getting Rewrite

December 19, 2018

By Katie Lannan

State House News Service

MALDEN -- The amount of class time Massachusetts students spend on the arts varies widely, according to state officials, with the average elementary schooler’s instruction coming in two 45-minute blocks per week often reserved for visual arts and music.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education last year began work to revise its 1999 arts curriculum framework.

With plans to release a draft of the revised framework for public comment in February and have a final version ready for a vote in May, department officials and art teachers working on the update discussed their progress at a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting Tuesday.

Without more data on the status of arts education in Massachusetts schools under the current framework, board members were “enthusiastic about believing in” the revisions “but unable to get our arms around whether we’re being just academic here,” board Chairman Paul Sagan said.

They raised questions about the best way to promote arts exposure and talent development for students without burdening teachers.

“What teachers have been asking for is time for creativity,” said Margaret McKenna, a former president of Lesley University and Suffolk University who has served on the board since 2014. “I don’t know how we create the time because it’s one more thing they have to do, and we’re not taking anything away. I don’t have an answer, I just have a concern.”

McKenna said she was a “huge proponent of arts education,” but worried about “imposing standards that add to teachers’ workload.”

The revised framework, as presented Tuesday, involves four broad practices -- creating, presenting, responding and connecting -- across the five disciplines of dance, media arts, music, theater and visual arts. Its “guiding principles” include relevance to students, connection to other disciplines and to social-emotional learning, a variety of disciplines, styles, media and roles, engagement with the community, and a focus on “artistic intent.”

Craig Waterman, assistant director for strategy and integration in the department’s Center for Instructional Support, said the idea of “making decisions with purpose” is fundamental to understanding what art is.

“One of the key things about artwork is that, in fact, artists are making intentional decisions, and so that’s something we want to make sure is infused throughout the whole process, so as students are creating, making sure they’re doing that with intent, as they’re interpreting other people’s art, they’re understanding their intent,” he said.

Martin West, a Harvard Graduate School of Education professor appointed to the board last year by Gov. Charlie Baker, said the revised framework was “coherent and and also very comprehensive,” and suggested guidance could be made available to educators on how to prioritize different practices and disciplines.

Michael Moriarty, executive director of the OneHolyoke Community Development Corporation and a board member since 2015, said the framework’s ideas are “not something that comes from the top down through a document, but rather a guidance.” He said school leadership and allocation of resources, including time, would also play a role.

“Education’s actually an art in its own right, and not a science,” Moriarty said.

Sagan said it would be helpful, before the board votes on the framework next year, if the department could provide “some context about are we even close, is this just a time issue, is it because we’re piling so many other things on, is it a money issue.”

“I think what you can tell is there’s a keen interest here, but I think we feel like we’re a little in the dark in terms of are we just having a really nice conversation that’s so far from reality or not,” he said.

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