Positive Evidence for Arts Education Legislation

In his article "Music in U.S. Federal Education Policy: Estimating the Effect of 'Core Status' for Music," University of Maryland professor Kenneth Elpus reviews Goals 2000: Educate America Act, a piece of federal legislation passed in 1994 that declared the arts a core subject in American schools. Elpus discusses its impact in music education across United States high schools. With the goal of narrowing the research gap between policy implementation and policy effects, he uses nationally representative data from the National Center for Education Statistics to measure the effects of the policy by analyzing the number of school-level course offerings and graduation requirements.

Although there is a wealth of information analyzing music education policy issues, there has been little done to empirically measure policy outcomes. Using policy analytic techniques from applied economics on data collected from 1992 to 2000, Elpus found correlations between the arts' designation as a "core" subject and the number of courses, course requirements, and number of years of courses required in public schools following implementation of Goals 2000 in 1994. Data collected from 1992 served as a baseline comparison. Variations in the findings occurred between states without a prior arts mandate, states with a prior flexible art mandate, and states with a prior strict arts mandate. There was the most growth in states without the prior mandate and states with a prior strict mandate saw the smallest amount of growth, although there was still improvement. It should be noted that there was no significant change for private schools between 1992 and 2000.

Addressing graduation requirements, Elpus reported increases in requiring arts study for graduation, the greatest increase occurring in states with no prior arts mandate and the least for those with a prior strict requirement. Addressing the average number of arts courses required, there were also increases for those public schools without a prior arts mandate and for those with a prior flexible arts mandate. Those with a prior strict arts mandate actually saw a decrease in the number of credits required. These findings suggest that Goals 2000 "likely raised the status of the four arts disciplines as a whole but may have reduced the status of music education's primacy within the arts disciplines" (20). Further research on the number of course offerings among the other arts disciplines would be beneficial in determining gains for the arts education overall, not just for music education. Elpus argues that his findings help discern previous analyses and prove that "core" status and state adoptions of arts standards improve the status of arts education.

Regarding future policy implications, Elpus contends that the effects of Goals 2000 should be seen within the larger context of the policy, specifically the then-popular belief that arts education, especially music, has other cognitive benefits. Including the arts in the Common Core Standards movement may not yield as great of results as Goals 2000, but there is certainly a basis for improvement in arts education as a result of policy as evidenced by the findings in the study. Elpus suggests that in order for more improvements to be made, arts educators "ought to actively support the profession's engagement in the Common Core Standards movement, if only to avoid a loss of status gained through earlier efforts" (23).

Elpus, Kenneth. 2013. "Music in U.S. Federal Education Policy: Estimating the Effect of "Core Status" for Music." Arts Education Policy Review 114(1): 13-24. doi: 10.1080/10632913.2013.744242.

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