Legislators send new visual and performing arts standards for California schools to governor

Fourth graders at Meadows Arts and Technology Elementary School take part in a music class on Tuesday morning, March 31, 2015.
Fourth graders at Meadows Arts and Technology Elementary School take part in a music class on Tuesday morning, March 31, 2015.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Visual and performing arts standards for schools in California are about to get a makeover.

State legislators passed a bill Tuesday to update the state's content standards in the arts for the first time since 2001. Arts education advocates say the changes are overdue: while California educators have updated standards for most school subjects in recent years to reflect changing technology, research and educational priorities, arts standards have languished.

"If you even think from just the technology standpoint – how did we access music in the year 2001 and how do students today access music?" said Scott Hedgecock, president of the California Music Education Association.

Hedgecock says technology isn't the only reason the standards for music education in schools need an overhaul. 

"New emerging ensembles – mariachi groups, steel drum, ukulele – [there are] things that are very popular in schools now that we need to be able to address," said Hedgecock.   

The bill headed to the governor's desk, AB 2862, authorizes the Superintendent of Public Instruction to work with arts educators and the public to align the state objectives with a new set of national standard recommendations introduced two years ago.  

The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards released new standards for music, visual art, dance and theater in 2014, the first revamp since 1994. They are optional; ten states have adopted them since. Under the new bill, California will be next.

The national goals are framed around four concepts: "creating, presenting, responding and connecting"  in music, visual art, dance, theater, and the newly added media arts.

The new standards "suggest that there is certain learning, knowledge and skill that can happen at each grade level and it is sequential," said Jim Palmarini of the Educational Theatre Association, who was part of the team that wrote the national standards.

"That’s important when a school district or a school begins to build a curriculum," Palmarini said, "as it allows them to more deliberately think about what students learn and when they learn it and how it fits into a well-rounded curriculum."

Since the new standards were released at a national level, some teachers have already started pulling from the new guidelines. 

"There’s been a big push for critical thinking and inquiry for students," said Kimberly Ramos, a visual art teacher at Carter High School in Rialto. "These new standards really help address that so that they’re getting to the point more where they’re shaping their own art making."

Ramos, who is also part of a network of teachers called The California Arts Project, is hopeful that this legislation will spur a reawakening of the arts in school districts around the state. 

"For a while we were really put on the back burner," Ramos said. "And so hopefully with the new standards it'll really give us a push forward." 

If the bill is passed, the state education department has until 2019 to refine the standards for California schools.

AB 2862 isn't the only arts education legislation that went through this cycle. A bill to restore single-subject teaching credentials for dance and theater teachers is also awaiting a signature from Governor Jerry Brown.