LEADERSHIP in Art Education: Taking Action in Schools and Communities

Article excerpt

Fortunately, the hard work of advocacy paid off in that district. The arts were not eliminated from the schools because teachers, parents, students, and other stakeholders took the responsibility to make their educational priorities known. However, when the teachers saw the high interest in art that existed in the community, they realized that this threat to art education might have been prevented through strong leadership before the crisis.

One of the traditional privileges for teachers in the United States has been control over the curriculum. Unlike most countries in the world, the United States does not have a national curriculum per se, enabling teachers to make curriculum decisions that most benefit local students. However, the Elementary and Secondary Act, also known as the No Child Left Behind Act, has acted as a national curriculum policy by enabling school administrators to conceive of a curriculum that privileges reading and math, and neglects arts programming. Research has demonstrated that art teachers are being pushed into teaching reading and math skills in their classes (Chapman, 2005; Sabol, 2010) and for several years, my graduate students have reported specific administrative directives that are contrary to good art teaching, such as using multiple-choice tests in their classes to help students do better on standardized tests. High schools that do not continually improve their students' reading and math test scores run the risk of losing whole art departments. And in junior high and middle schools, many students are allowed to take only one quarter or less of art.

In contrast to these repercussions of policy, a 2005 Harris poll reported that 93% of Americans consider the arts a vital part of a well-rounded education. The report also revealed that "86% of Americans agree that an arts education encourages and assists in the improvement of a child's attitudes toward school; 83% of Americans believe that arts education helps teach children to communicate effectively with adults and peers; and 79% of Americans agree that incorporating arts into education is the first step in adding back what's missing in public education today" (Americans for the Arts, 2005).

It is time to reclaim the curriculum. To do this, we need creative leadership by teachers, professors, and community educators who are willing to take action against policies and managerial decisions that diminish students' opportunities for learning through art (Freedman, 2007). For over a generation, scholars in education have been pointing to the disempowerment of teachers in the wake of public policy makers', school administrators', and other stakeholders' efforts to countermand the expertise of teachers and undermine the importance of teachers' knowledge about their students (Giroux, 1988). Now, art educators need to draw on our expertise to ensure that we are included in educational decisionmaking in schools and out.

The most important first step of art education leadership is to possess a clear vision of the future. That vision should be related to the leading edge of the field, reflect best practices, and be written in a curriculum rationale.

An effective contemporary leadership vision for art education needs several baseline characteristics. It must characterize knowledge of the visual arts as essential to human life. It must take into account the cultural and personal impact of the range of popular and fine art. It must connect the visual arts to a variety of societal aims as well as educational goals. It must renew an emphasis on creative thinking and behaviors in the face of increased standardization. And, it must guarantee learning, using appropriate student assessment as proof of achievement. Based on these criteria, the following are critical components of successful leadership.

Understanding the Difference Between Advocacy and Leadership

The breadth of art education - in school, communities, museums, and so on- is continually threatened by forces requiring that art educators advocate to maintain the opportunities for students that we currently have in place. …