Bravo New Jersey!!! They’ve accomplished something which, to our shame, we can only dream of in California: a return to arts education in EVERY SCHOOL IN THE STATE!

Several years ago my colleagues and I in the LAUSD Arts Branch were involved in a national effort to develop an evaluation (e.g. “test”) to provide hard data to support our arts education efforts. The national conversation at the time was obsessed with data, data, data, and every growth effort was put on hold until we had it. It was the time of “Data-Based Decision Making,” which, roughly translated, means, “No Data=No Decisions.” The mantra was, “If you don’t test it, they won’t teach it” (which in many states has turned out to be catastrophically true), so we naively dived in and did our best to come up with something authentic. At the time, we were working with a partner in the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

Last June I wrote a post about our efforts in which I explained the irony of standardized testing in the context of arts education and described all of our obstacles. Basically: all we could come up with was an elegant and sophisticated single-answer vocabulary test. True evaluation in arts education involves embedded rubrics that serve the creative process but cannot provide hard “data” without astronomical expense.

I’m so sorry that, in my calcified old brain, that I cannot call up the name of the gentleman we partnered with in New Jersey!!  Since then he and/or his colleagues, have been busy. Apparently they didn’t wait for the elusive data. They understood the role of the arts in social and emotional health and in cognition—learning skills! They went ahead with their determination to get the arts back into the role they have held historically, at the core of eduction. (Now, finally, I suspect we will watch their test scores rise!)

If you go to their website, you will see many of the same standards-based elements and tools that we developed, but there’s something else. They did what I knew we had to do but never could. They got imperatives from the top: from the state level. They held school leadership at the district level and at the site level to account. Every superintendent and every principal in New Jersey must account for her/his stewardship of the arts offerings in their schools.

That’s the way to get it done!


4 replies
  1. Krista Carson Elhai
    Krista Carson Elhai says:

    The person was probably Dale Schmid. I just came back from a College Board meeting with Dale, and I’m always impressed with what they have going on in NJ.

  2. Eric Booth
    Eric Booth says:

    Thanks, Robin. Yes, NJ does have some bragging rights on this. BUT, my arts educator friends in NJ are not popping corks. Some are actually disgusted to see the state claiming breakthrough accomplishments, because they know first hand how paltry much of the instruction is. Yes, it is more than nothing, and within the norms of our field, that is to be noted. But their passion for the power of arts education refuses to celebrate when the quality is so low in many settings, particularly in lower income settings. They are not saying the teachers are weak, although that is sometimes true, they are saying the situation is impossible—how can you celebrate when arts education is defined as art-on-a-cart once every two weeks, and the teacher has 500 students. Breadth is something to note, but celebration about a real arts education is a long way off.

  3. robinlithgow
    robinlithgow says:

    Yes, I suspected as much and thought to do some more digging, but then I thought, what the heck, let’s get a little competition going!! The next state to get to 100% can maybe brag about quality, and then, who knows….? THANK you for the comment! it will help.


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