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Arts integration within North Carolina schools is taking large strides this year. Last month, Democratic Governor Beverly Perdue signed the following legislation:
To further ensure that teacher preparation programs remain current and reflect a rigorous course of study that is aligned to State and national standards, the State Board of Education, in consultation with the Board of Governors of The University of North Carolina, shall ensure students preparing to teach in elementary schools are prepared to integrate arts education across the curriculum.
Representative Becky Carney (Mecklenburg) from the House Education Committee amended the original Senate bill to include arts integration. It passed the House unanimously and was sent back to the Senate for concurrence, passing 46-1. Representative Linda Johnson and Senators Tom Apodaca, Jerry Tillman, and Josh Stein also supported the amendment.
It is not yet clear what changes in teacher preparation will take place within the university system as a result of this legislation. Nonetheless, this is a significant step, as stated by Karen Wells, the executive director of Arts North Carolina. "Knowing how to integrate the arts has always been a part of teacher standards, but it's never been required, and to me that is the big difference here," Wells said in a recent interview with Education Week.
North Carolina has a strong history with arts integration from the A+ Schools model, which has become a national model successfully replicated in Oklahoma and Arkansas. The A+ Schools Program is an arts-based whole-school reform effort that uses the arts as a catalyst for creating connections and making school engaging, meaningful and enjoyable places to teach and learn.
The A+ model is based on ongoing, high quality professional development for educators to learn how to combine interdisciplinary teaching and daily arts instruction. From 2003 – 2009, the A+ Schools Program was housed at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Although now housed at the NC Arts Council, it makes sense that the university system consulted with the board of governors to recommend this legislation, which will further teacher training in arts integration.
Other encouraging models for arts education also exist across the state. A recent article on NewsObserver.com refers to models like Chatham County schools, where all elementary school students take arts classes. In Cumberland County, about two-thirds of high school students select arts courses. And Pitt County schools partner closely with East Carolina University to deliver arts training to students.
While there are promising practices around the state, this legislation will definitely be meeting an educational need identified by a report issued in April. The Arts Education Commission, appointed last year by the General Assembly, found that on average, North Carolina schools employ just one arts educator for every 275 students. Likewise, only five of the state’s 100 county school systems require students to take art classes.
Through this report, the Arts Education Commission formulated several proposals for the state legislation, including a requirement that high school students earn at least one arts education credit in order to graduate. However, the legislature did not pass such a bill in the recently completed term.
With the arts integration legislative win behind them, Christopher Gergen, CEO of Forward Ventures, and Stephen Martin, the director of the Center for Creative Leadership, make the case that this graduation requirement is a key step.