“To neglect the contribution of the arts in education . . . is to deny children access to one of the most stunning aspects of their culture and one of the most potent means for developing their minds.”

—elliot w. eisner, professor of education and art, stanford university

Arts education is not a luxury, but an essential and critical part of every child’s education.

In fact, arts education has been affirmed by federal policy, the State of Illinois, and the Chicago Public Schools to be an integral part of education, standing on equal footing with language arts, mathematics, science, and other core subject areas.

To truly understand the value of arts education, educators go beyond policy statements to witness its impact on student learning firsthand. Over time, many observe that although not every student of the arts achieves mastery in a discipline, many are likely to emerge as leaders of their class. Arts education helps students understand the world with greater complexity and sophistication. Through arts education, students develop their imaginations as they learn to communicate through complex symbols. They have opportunities to improve judgment and decision-making skills by discovering multiple solutions for problems.

A broad education in the arts reaches the whole student, and this motivates the student to achieve. Music engages students in thinking about and organizing sounds; drawing, sculpting, and other visual arts develop spatial acuity; the study of theater strengthens memory through repeating stories and memorizing dialogues; and dance builds motor control, awareness of the body, and directionality. Through this curriculum, students have opportunities to construct meaning through dance making, music making, theater making, visual art making, or creating within other art forms. Emerging from their arts studies, students have a new lens through which to understand and interpret the world.

Studies link arts education with overall academic achievement. For example:

Benefits for Individuals and the School

Students who struggle in other academic areas often shine in ways they never have before when they participate in arts experiences. Through the arts, these students encounter unique opportunities to build expressiveness, teamwork, and self-esteem. These new challenges also help students develop critical and abstract thinking, observation, innovation, analytical skills, and information retention. All students benefit from honing the higher-order critical thinking skills required for many types of learning throughout the school day.

Studying the arts can improve more than just academic achievement. Studies show that students exposed to the arts develop empathy and self-control. They also learn conflict resolution skills, are more tolerant of others, and develop respect and appreciation for other views and perspectives. A student population with these skills and attitudes enhances both the climate of the classroom and the school as a whole.

Arts Education and Arts Careers

An arts education is also vital for students who plan to pursue a career in the arts. By participating in sequential arts instruction at the primary level, students have the foundation to be successful in arts-intensive programs in high school. Continuing through the secondary level, interested students can aim at a wide range of career options, including:

Arts Education and the New Global Economy

Our nation depends on a workforce prepared for the challenges of a twenty-first century globally competitive economy. For the technological, scientific, and service-based jobs of the future, workers need the ability to access information and use it effectively to solve important problems. They also need increased ability to communicate and to collaborate. Yet, in the United States, a majority of employers reported difficulty in finding applicants that demonstrate creativity and innovation, traits they rated as highly desirable for success.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the arts build the “foundation” skills—creative thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and self-esteem—needed to meet future employment needs. In schools that provide sequential, consistent instruction in the arts, students are developing critical skills that are highly valued and necessary in the workplace.

A Vision for Arts Education in Chicago Public Schools

The Office of Arts Education (OAE) was established in 2006 as a public-private partnership to deliver high-quality, standards-based, and consistent arts programming to students within Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Since then, OAE has worked with schools, CPS teachers, and partnering arts organizations to develop students’ abilities to understand and appreciate all art disciplines, including visual arts, music, theater, and dance. Additionally, we provide ongoing professional development to arts educators, opportunities for teachers and principals to network and share best practices, assistance to schools and arts organizations in selecting partners, management of city-wide assessments, exhibitions and special projects, and development of innovative programs that provide arts instruction in new and effective ways.

As the central focus of our work, the OAE has collaborated with educators, grantmakers, and other community partners across the district to develop a vision for providing a rigorous, sequential, and standards-based arts education to all Chicago Public Schools students. The Chicago Guide for Teaching and Learning in the Arts is the culmination of this combined effort. School leaders, arts specialist teachers, general classroom teachers, and arts partners in the Chicago Public Schools can turn to the Guide and find a common framework for creating curriculum and lesson plans, organizing arts activities and field trips, and planning residencies. The following curricular goals, which are articulated in the Guide, are the tenets of our vision for arts education at CPS.

  1. Every child in every Chicago public school receives a comprehensive education with a core curriculum that includes high quality instruction in the arts for grades Pre-K through 12.

    OAE believes that opportunities to learn the arts, both within and outside of the classroom, are an essential part of a child’s education. This valuable instruction can be delivered by general classroom teachers and certified arts instructors as well as by partnering with arts organizations. Because many high quality opportunities exist beyond the dismissal of school each day, OAE supports a variety of quality programs that take place in school, before and after school, and during weekend and summer programs. To assure that instruction is ongoing and consistent, OAE also maintains that students’ exposure to the arts must begin in the earliest grades and continue throughout their years at CPS. Ultimately, our hope is that through this exposure all students will develop a lasting awareness of their own creative abilities and maintain a lifelong engagement in the arts.

  2. Instruction in the arts follows a developmentally appropriate, sequential curriculum based on a scope and sequence for arts learning, beginning at the primary grade level.

    The OAE believes that a high quality sequential arts education begins with a scope and sequence of skills in the arts disciplines that details what students are expected to know and do in the arts. This curriculum teaches the following ways of understanding the arts:

    • Art Making Teaching students to understand studio skills, practices, and performance techniques in the arts
    • Arts Literacy Teaching students the language and vocabulary of the arts and to express ideas and meanings in their artwork
    • Interpretation and Evaluation Teaching students to reflect on, and to evaluate, their own artwork and artistic process, and that of others
    • Making Connections Teaching students to understand the interrelationships of the various arts and the relationships of the arts to other academic subjects, diverse cultures, careers, and life experiences
  3. A minimum of one full-time arts specialist teacher is present in each school, and is part of the school’s leadership team.

    An endorsed arts specialist teacher is the foundation for high quality arts instruction in each school. In addition to working with the leadership team, the responsibilities of the arts specialist teacher-leader include monitoring after-school arts programming, coordinating with arts partners to ensure alignment, quality, and learning content consistent with district goals, building in-school assessments and coordinating school participation in city-wide assessments and exhibitions.

We look forward to actualizing this vision through our work with schools and with the wider Chicago arts education community. Working together, we will strive to elevate the role of arts instruction throughout the Chicago Public Schools. We passionately believe that an education in the arts serves not only to enrich all students as individuals, but offers a necessary element of a high quality education for the twenty-first century global citizen.