A Guide to Characteristics, Options, and Successes
Performing and visual arts schools are found in most major cities in the United States, and their number is growing. Student success in schools of the arts is well documented, with a variety of arts schools opening each year at all grade levels. This article provides an overview of the characteristics of an effective arts education program, descriptions of the various options available for artistically talented students seeking specialized training through performing and visual arts schools, and guidelines to those interested in planning a new school for the arts.
In recent years, researchers have asserted that education in the arts develops the problem-solving and critical thinking skills required to succeed in college and in the work place (U.S. Department of Labor, 1991). Arts education gives students the opportunity to learn in different ways, understand through exploration, and realize ambiguity and subjectivity in learning. No less important, there is growing evidence that the high-level thinking skills and creativity engendered by serious education through the arts can contribute to a better-prepared force of industrial leaders who can compete in world markets (Consortium of National Arts Education Associations, 1994).
Those involved in arts and humanities training know from experience that arts education has the potential to improve learning skills, promote student achievement, enhance social skills, stimulate personal growth and development, and foster problem solving, higher order thinking, communication, teamwork, and creativity. The ability to risk failure, an essential life skill, is practiced daily in the arts. The development of all faculties of mind, the emotions, intuition, and the senses--is at the core of education in the arts and humanities (Fiske, 1999).
A 1992 U.S. Department of Education study of elementary and secondary Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence revealed the following 10 characteristics common among the schools commended by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Arts for excellence in their arts education programs, as wells their academic programs:
1. The school has a philosophy/vision of education that holds that a strong arts curriculum is basic to a well-balanced educational program.
2. The leadership of the school is passionate about and committed to the value of high-quality arts education.
3. The schools are student-centered, guaranteeing access, equity, and success for all students, while maintaining differentiated levels of instruction for students with talent and motivation.
4. The curriculum is balanced and includes music; dance; drama/theater; creative writing; and visual, media, and technical arts.
5. The curriculum is skill-based, sequential, multicultural, interdisciplinary, and rigorous.
6. Instructors from high-quality arts institutions are sought to teach. They include artist/teachers, arts specialists, and highly trained classroom teachers.
7. School administrators realize that the arts need to be allotted time, space, and financial and administrative support.
8. The "school climate" is so positive that visitors often express the wish that they had gone to the school and next want to know how their children, grandchildren, or the children of friends can attend the school.
9. Strong community ties to parents, businesses, and other arts organizations characterize these schools. These schools generate excitement in their communities and support for education, generally.
10. A variety of assessment and evaluation procedures exist in these schools, including portfolios, videos, performances, auditions, visiting judges and critics, competitions, contests, art exhibits, paper- and pencil-tests, and traditional norm-referenced tests (U.S. Department of Education, 1991, pp. …