By Mark Slavin, Vice President of Education
Music Center: Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County and
Board Chair, California Alliance for Arts Education
The California Alliance for Arts Education was very pleased to see the Governor veto AB 2446 (Furutani). This measure would have watered-down California’s already weak high school graduation requirements by allowing students to take a career technical education course, in lieu of a course in the arts or foreign language. The battle over this legislation is part of an ongoing debate about the role and purpose of public high schools. Specifically, what is the proper balance between preparing students for college and providing tangible employment skills to help students gain jobs right out of high school? Or is this a false choice? Can we imagine high schools in which every course engages kids in project-based learning, real world applications, and the development of tangible skills for the workplace?
It was unfortunate that the battle over AB 2446 placed advocates for arts education and advocates for career and technical education in opposing camps. In fact, many of us want the same thing – high schools that offer diverse options for students to find their passion and explore specific career paths. Arts advocates often cite testimonials from young people stating their arts course was the only reason they came to school every day. Why not expand our vision to imagine high schools that offer BOTH foundational courses in the arts AND opportunities to deepen career and technical skills?
Advocates for arts education have worked hard to place the arts as part of the core academic courses required for admission California’s public colleges and universities. The approved courses offer students much more than art-making and performance skills. Consistent with the Visual and Performing Arts Framework, courses are expected to help students analyze and make critical judgments about works of art. Students are also expected to study historical and cultural context and to make connections to other subject areas and career opportunities.
Having achieved this status in the core curriculum, many advocates for arts education are protective of these hard-fought gains. Accordingly, we want to ensure the arts retain academic rigor and are taught by highly-qualified teachers. If these values are lost, we fear arts education could be further marginalized and become more vulnerable to cuts. But in defending our vision of “quality” arts education, are we closing the door to exciting new partnerships with career and technical education? In the rush to point out the limitations of a course taught by an industry professional lacking a teaching credential, are we denying students powerful learning opportunities?
Advocates for arts education often assert the arts are essential to prepare students for California’s creative economy. We cite data about the scope of the economic impact from the entertainment industry, the performing arts, museums, video game design, architecture, and fashion design, to name a few of the important job sectors. In our passion to defend “standards-based arts education,” let us not close the door to other arts learning opportunities with a direct link to careers. When a student becomes inspired by an introductory theatre course, we should applaud their desire to take a course in set design taught by a working professional. When a student finds their passion in a visual art course, who would be against taking another course from a working graphic designer?
Before we rush in to another “us against them” battle in Sacramento, I am hoping we can explore new alliances and common cause with advocates for career technical education. Together let us try to expand, not narrow, the range of options open to students in our high schools.
Editor’s Note: The California Alliance has recently published a white paper that explores the overlapping goals and requirements of CTE and VAPA studies, and advocates for a “Both/And” approach. Click here to read the paper.