I was a pleasure to spend the morning with a panel of fellow art supervisors invited to speak with graduate art education students at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
The panel represented nine school districts in Maryland and Virginia, and while it was meant to help the MICA students understand more about the school divisions, I think all of us found it equally interesting to learn about our neighbors. I thought I would share a few trends that I think paint an interesting picture of the state of art education in our region.
The first, which I found rather interesting, is the clear message that each school division has is own unique approach to art curriculum. I’m definitely guilty, but I guess a part of me assumed other school districts were more similar than different by virtue of being based on the same state or national curriculum. I was wrong. There are, no doubt, many overlapping ideas and practices, especially when we get down to the classroom instruction level, but in philosophy and curriculum, each district has distinct ideas and areas of emphasis.
I think the message, here, for art teachers is if you move to a different district, you should expect a different set of expectations, and will have to adjust your practice to meet the goals of that system. Another way to look at it, if you have the flexibility, is with some research you could choose a school district with a philosophy of art instruction that aligns with your own.
The second theme of note relates to assessment and teacher evaluation. These concerns are symptomatic of current trends in education which favor standards-based curricula, data-driven decision making, and accountability. Applied appropriately, I believe all of these can be a good thing, but this means art teachers must find quality methods for assessing student learning that align with the emphasis and values of our content area. (If you read that and thought, “right, a multiple choice quiz just doesn’t align with what we value in art,” then you are right there with me.) I believe this — developing quality, authentic assessment tools for art — is the work of art educators for the near term, and I hope to learn about some great solutions at conferences and in publications.
Finally, I was pleased to hear a consistent message of enthusiasm and optimism for art in our schools. Some districts were taking their first steps on a path toward new and better things, and others were well down the road, but all seemed to share an attitude that the arts are valued and serving students in important ways. As the pendulum beginnings to swing away from the over-emphasis on testing we have suffered for more than a decade, it seems the school systems in our region are developing new strategic goals that are more holistic and consistently value the creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills that we teach so well in art.
It’s an exciting time to be an art educator, and I look forward to having more than 20 MICA graduate students join the profession in the coming year.