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Back to School with New Momentum for the Arts

Greg Liakos, External Relations Director

STARS residency at Fayerweather Street School.
STARS residency at Fayerweather Street School.

Curriculum frameworks are the foundational architecture for teaching and learning in K-12 education. Without frameworks, schools struggle to set learning standards and effective ways to track student growth and achievement. Subjects lacking strong frameworks are often marginalized or ignored.

So it had long troubled many that Massachusetts hadn’t updated its arts curriculum frameworks since 1999. That changed last year when the Arts for All coalition made renewing those frameworks an advocacy priority.

Arts for All comprises MASSCreative, EdVestors, Arts|Learning, Mass Cultural Council, Mass College of Art & Design, and individual advocates from across the state. The coalition first got involved in advocating that Massachusetts broaden student access to “a well-rounded education” as part of its response to the 2015 federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Arts for All noted that in 2015-16, less than half of Mass high school students took an arts class. The ESSA guidelines adopted by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) prioritized arts education by requiring every school district to include arts education data on their school and district “report cards.” This will make it easier for parents, students, and other members of the community to see what their schools are doing, and compare them with other districts.

Building off that progress, Arts for All met with Jeffrey Riley, then newly appointed as the state’s Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, and found a willing partner. As a state-appointed receiver, Riley saw the arts play a vital role in the turnaround of the Lawrence Public Schools. He also understood that updating the arts curriculum frameworks was key step to reestablishing the arts as within the core curriculum. He worked quickly to ensure the updating process was supported and a department priority. With support from the staff and the leadership of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Board unanimously adopted the new frameworks June 25.

“This was a significant victory for all of us who believe every student in Massachusetts deserves access to a quality arts education, regardless of school district or zip code,” said Emily Ruddock, MASSCreative Interim Executive Director. “The next crucial step is the implementation of the frameworks and helping districts and teachers find ways to support excellent arts education curriculum. Arts for All will be there to support the staff of DESE and work with education advocates across the Commonwealth to keep up the pressure and make sure that happens.”

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