Art in Education

By: Megan Riordan, 2nd Grade, Soccer Elementary

The place of visual art in the standard classroom curriculum is becoming a national debate.  Historically visual art is not one of the core pillars of school instruction, which includes reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.  However, new research suggests that we should reconsider visual art’s place in the standard curriculum, and in the classroom.  A report by the Rand Corporation in 2005 notes that the intrinsic value of arts act to create social bonds and community cohesion within specific groups, such as classrooms  (Brooks, 2005).

A Historical View of Art in the Educational Landscape

The arts have been neglected in classrooms due to historical education practices, which were later supported by sweeping federal education laws, like No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Arts were not thought to be a staple of curriculum in the 1970s and 1980s, leading various generations to be less than convinced of their efficacy or purpose (Smith, 2009).

Implementation of NCLB in 2001 reaffirmed teachers’ dedication to core subjects in order to raise test scores and meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).  Meanwhile, federal policy like the Goals 2000 Educate America Act mandated that all forms of art become a main focus in classrooms (Smith, 2009).  However, pro-arts policies were overshadowed by NCLB’s insistence on high test scores, which leave little time for instruction in subject areas that were not measured by this NCLB’s standardized tests.  A 2006 Center on Education Policy report found that 44 percent of districts increased instructional time spent on language arts and math after the implementation of NCLB, while decreasing instruction in other subjects (Smith, 2009).

This national exclusion of arts in the standard curriculum has left its “inclusion in any classroom teaching…to the discretion and willingness of individual teachers” (Chemi, 2014, p. 371).  Teachers must be agitators of change in deciding that arts education is essential and in creating change within the ideology and policy surrounding the classroom curriculum.  How can teachers become leaders in sustaining classroom practices in the arts? What is the best way to establish and sustain the idea that arts in schools is a worthwhile endeavor?

Quantitative Research Shows Correlation, But No Causality

In thinking about visual art education it is helpful to consider whether federal policy continues to play a role in the exclusion of visual arts in the classroom, or whether there are other barriers to integrating visual arts into daily or weekly lessons.  Currently “forty-seven states have arts-education mandates, forty-eight have arts-education standards, and forty have requirements for high school graduation” (Smith, 2009).  Yet, we are still failing to implement these standards into school and classroom settings.  Why is this?

Policy suggests that teachers are encouraged to incorporate the arts into curriculum, but teachers choose not to.  This may be due to the fact that teachers are not convinced of the transfer between art and academic subjects.  Empirical data has shown a correlation between art and academic achievement; however, it has not proven causality.  Causality between art and academics cannot be explained for all students, but there is data to suggest that art education plays a strong causal role in “school-related and developmental” learning (Chemi, 2014, p. 376).

Administrative Support for the Arts Is Difficult to Rally

In a landscape defined by NCLB-era standardized tests there is debate as to whether time should be allotted to non-academic instruction, especially in schools at risk of not meeting AYP.  This has resulted in some principals being threatened by teacher leadership and creativity and may imposing top-down agendas that can be out of touch with classroom and developmental needs (Berry, 2014, p. 10).  Additionally, part of administration’s reluctance to support risky decisions like arts inclusion is a lack of budgetary support for non-academic endeavors.  School-wide and district-wide reform in the arts seems unlikely in the face of administrative challenges.

Time is the Scarcest Resource

Teachers are tasked with planning, disciplining, paperwork, professional development, and staying deeply committed to the students and families they serve.  It is increasingly difficult for teachers to teach and “serve in an external leadership role during the remainder of the day” (Berry, 2014, p. 10).  Teacher commitment and support is essential to establishing a new element in curriculum.  Arts education is ultimately at the discretion of the teacher; so commitment-building competencies and ease of facilitation are necessary to ensure teachers see art as a worthwhile use of their sparse time (Boon, et al., 2013, p. 219).

Solution: Implementing Sustainable School-wide Arts Programs

There have been instances in which districts have been able to implement arts programs in the face of the challenges outlined above.  Dallas Independent School District began Dallas Arts Learning Initiative (DALI) to make art accessible to its largely underprivileged student population.  DALI partners with existing arts and cultural centers to provide art education to students in a co-teaching or after school club format (DALI, 2007, p. 4).  Partnering with organizations relieves the time and planning burdens placed on teachers.  It also alleviates some of the budgetary burden of financing non-academic programs.  This type of program can take place after school, alleviating standardized testing pressures.

Longitudinal studies of DALI show that it has produced gains in standardized test scores in both reading and math for its participants (DALI, 2007, p. 3).  Qualitative studies found that those students who were involved in DALI “showed significantly more and different kinds of learning behaviors, such as self-initiated learning… as well as improved classroom behaviors (DALI, 2007, p. 2).  Partnering with community resources to establish arts programs not only circumvents common barriers to implementation, but show gains in student academics.

However, teachers may not be resourced with the power to leverage a program like DALI.  When teachers do not have the power to leverage community resources it is vital to rally staff around the idea that the arts are a worthwhile goal in education. It is vital to ask your staff whether a small change in arts education might lead to big changes in the ways students think.  Visually literate students may be the difference in preparing students to be “critical, informed citizens” in an “increasingly image-saturated culture” (Andrelchik, 2015, p. 7).

One way to encourage implementing art in the classroom is to collaborate in its planning.  Many art lessons can be adapted for a variety of grades.  Art can and should be tied to classroom standards to reinforce its benefits in helping students transfer skills.  Pairing the arts with literacy resources or cultural lessons can make integrating art in your classroom easy. Plan lessons using found or readily available resources to alleviate the need to order supplies or spend money out of pocket. Try incorporating art into your lessons!


Adrelchik, H. (2015). Reconsidering Literacy in the Art Classroom.  Art Education, 68(1), 6-11.

Berry, B. (2011). Teacherpreneurs. Kappan, 93(6), 28-33.

Boon, J., Van der Klink, M., & Janseen, J. (2013). Fostering inrapreneurial competencies of employees in the education sector.  International Journal of Training & Development, 17(3), 210-220. Doi:10.11111/ijtd.12010

Brooks, A., McCarty, K., Ondaatje, E., & Szanto, A. (2005). A Portrait of the Visual Arts: meeting the challenges of a new era. Santa Monica: Rand Corporation.

Chemi, T. (2014). The Artful Teacher: a conceptual model for arts integration in schools. Studies in Art Education, 56(1), 370-383.

Dallas Arts Learning Initiative. (2007). Dallas Arts Learning Initiative (DALI).

Smith, F. (2009). Why Arts Education is Crucial, and Who’s Doing It Best. Edutopia. Retrieved from:

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