by Tom Waggoner, Director of Fine Arts for TEA
The historic 78th Texas Legislature has adjourned. Within the midst of literally hundreds of other bills related to education introduced during the session, Senate Bill 815 (SB 815) was passed by both the Senate and House of Representatives, was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry, and became effective for Texas school districts in the fall of 2003. What does this mean for fine arts educators? What does this mean for administrators? More importantly, what does this mean for the schoolchildren of Texas?
What Does SB 815 Say?
Texas Senator Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, District 26 and Texas Representative Rob Eissler of The Woodlands, District 15 were the author and sponsor, respectively, of this important legislation. SB 815 mandates that the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) are now required of all Texas school districts as a condition of accreditation in providing instruction in all of the required curriculum — foundation and enrichment subject areas. There are two categories of the state-approved required curriculum that all school districts in Texas must offer — foundation and enrichment. The foundation content areas consist of English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. The enrichment content areas consist of fine arts, languages other than English, health, physical education, economics, career and technology education, and technology applications. Two of the basic differences between the foundation and enrichment curricula are 1) foundation subjects are assessed on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) as part of the state accountability system, whereas the enrichment subjects are not assessed; and 2) prior to the passage of SB 815, the TEKS were required in providing instruction in the foundation curriculum, while the TEKS were required as “guidelines” in providing instruction in the enrichment curriculum (Texas Education Code 28.002 [c-d] and Texas Administrative Code 74.1 [b-c]). With the passage of SB 815, however, the TEKS are now required (not as guidelines) of all Texas school districts when providing instruction in art, dance, music, and theatre.
What Does SB 815 Not Say?
SB 815 does not:
- mandate fine arts certified specialists at the elementary school level (local school district decision) in that elementary classroom generalists are also certified to teach all of the required curriculum – foundation and enrichment content areas;
- prescribe the amount of instructional time or teaching methodologies for fine arts (local school district decision); and/or
- add fine arts to the TAKS.
Consequently, at their General Meeting on Friday, September 10, 2004, the State Board of Education (SBOE) approved final revisions to 19 Texas Administrative Code (TAC), Chapter 74, Subchapter A to comply with SB 815. In addition to requiring the TEKS for foundation and enrichment content areas, the SBOE also determined that SB 815 serves as a mandate for school districts to provide TEKS-based instruction in all subjects/courses of the required curriculum (foundation and enrichment content areas) at all elementary grade levels (K-5). Therefore, in addition to the four foundation content areas of English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies, districts must also offer the elementary TEKS subjects/courses of art, music, theatre, languages other than English (to the extent possible), health, physical education, and technology applications at each grade level (K-5).
It should be noted that this action by the SBOE does not require school districts to employ certified specialists for enrichment content areas in elementary school, such as art, music, and theatre. TAC 74.2 (“Description of a Required Elementary Curriculum”) states that school districts “may provide instruction in a variety of arrangements and settings . . . to permit flexible learning arrangements for developmentally appropriate instruction for all student populations to support student attainment of course and grade level standards.” Therefore, districts still may exercise various options for delivering TEKS-based instruction, including integration of the curriculum content areas, compartmentalizing each subject/course, utilizing specialists for each area, and/or implementing other locally-adopted instructional methodologies to support student attainment of TEKS standards.
At the secondary level, school districts that offer grades 6-12 “must ensure that sufficient time is provided for teachers to teach and for students to learn” all of the foundation and enrichment content areas of the required curriculum (TAC 74.3[a][b], Subchapter A). Language was added to TAC 74.3(c), Subchapter A at the September 10 SBOE meeting stating that courses in the foundation and enrichment content areas in grades 6-12 “must be provided in a manner that allows all grade promotion and high school graduation requirements to be met in a timely manner.” TAC 74.3(c), Subchapter A also states that districts are not required “to offer a specific course in the foundation and enrichment curriculum” except as mandated by TAC 74.3, Subchapter A (“Description of a Secondary Curriculum”). Therefore, it is a local district decision as to how and at what grade levels TEKS-based instruction in the foundation and enrichment content areas is provided in grades 6-12. It should be noted, though, that high schools still must offer at least two of the four state-approved fine arts subjects (art, dance, music, theatre).
As stated in President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Education Act (Title IX, Section 9101 ), core academic subjects are identified as "English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts , history, and geography." This bipartisan legislation determines how the U. S. Department of Education will support our nation's schools, students, and communities. The requirement of the Fine Arts TEKS as mandated by SB 815 serves to more closely align the state of Texas with the No Child Left Behind federal legislation and reinforces the fact that the arts are truly an essential educational endeavor alongside the other foundation subject areas and not merely entertainment, an activity, or a frill.
The learning standards are actually a reflection of what our best fine arts teachers have been doing for many years. The TEKS, though, are documented in writing, are clearly articulated, provide a vertically and horizontally aligned structure for student achievement, and, consequently, "legitimize" the arts as an essential component of a well-rounded and balanced education for all students. Additionally, one credit of fine arts is required of all students for graduation now that the Recommended Graduation Program has become the default plan for Texas high schools, effective the 2004-05 school year. It is only logical that the TEKS be mandated when providing instruction in courses that are required for high school graduation.
As previously stated, the TEKS are "what" students should know and be able to do at the end of every grade level in each of the academic disciplines, including fine arts. It is the responsibility of school districts, though, to develop local curriculum that is aligned with the TEKS. The state of Texas does not mandate "how" the TEKS are mastered (e.g. curriculum development, methodologies, instructional time, scheduling, staffing [with the exception of grades K-4 "homeroom" class sizes]). However, the fact that the Fine Arts TEKS are now required of school districts when providing instruction in art, dance, music, and theatre will bolster the rationales of educators’ requests for the resources necessary to effectively and appropriately deliver the TEKS.
The passage of SB 815 could not have come at a better time for fine arts educators in Texas. Proclamation 2002 (Fine Arts textbook adoption) was approved by the SBOE in November 2004 and was implemented in school districts in Fall 2005. Although publishers have been earnest in aligning instructional materials with state learning standards in the past, they have been even more diligent in developing textbooks that will serve as useful and higher quality instructional tools in delivering the TEKS.
The population of Texas is very transient in nature. Indeed, student transfers from school to school within local school districts are a common occurrence. The Fine Arts TEKS, however, will bring about a level of consistency in grade level student achievement and high standards of learning in the arts, regardless of the size, geographic location, socio-economic status, and/or other demographic considerations of schools — factors that are, regrettably, sometimes used as excuses for low student expectations.
Many school districts already require the Fine Arts TEKS in art, dance, music, and theatre instruction and have developed curriculum that is aligned with the standards. For those districts that have not fully implemented the TEKS, it is impossible to teach what one does not know, so following the TEKS will require professional development for many teachers. The state’s professional arts education associations’ conferences offer a myriad of TEKS-related workshops and clinics for their respective memberships. Furthermore, many school districts provide their fine arts teachers with TEKS-related professional development opportunities that are locally organized and facilitated.
It is important to note that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) established the Center for Educator Development in Fine Arts (CEDFA) in 1995 to support effective and appropriate implementation of the Fine Arts TEKS in Texas schools. With the passage of SB 815, the potential and value of CEDFA’s mission becomes more significant than ever. Although no longer funded by TEA, CEDFA continues to provide a vast amount of TEKS-related information, products, and resources for fine arts educators, some of which are listed below:
- CEDFA website ( http://www.cedfa.org)
- Fine Arts Curriculum Frameworks for Art, Dance, Music, and Theatre
- Fine Arts TEKS Scope and Sequence Charts for Art, Dance, Music, and Theatre
- Two fine arts instructional video series entitled Portraits of Excellence: Fine Arts in Texas Schools and Proof of Performance: Fine Arts in Texas Schools
- Content Connections document (elementary, middle, and high school levels)
- Instructional video and correlating booklet entitled Fine Arts for All Students
The most far-reaching project of CEDFA, however, is the annual Fine Arts Summit initiative. By gathering fine arts educators, teacher educators, campus/district administrators, school board members, community members, and other stakeholders in fine arts education, the goal of the Fine Arts Summit is to increase support for the arts in Texas public schools. Workshop presentations at the Summit, which are conducted by expert educators who are members of the CEDFA Training Cadre, address topics in art, dance, music, and theatre that are aligned with the Fine Arts TEKS. The Fine Arts TEKS can make a difference because they powerfully address two fundamental issues that are pervasive in all education matters - quality and accountability. The TEKS will help ensure that the study of the arts is disciplined and focused and that arts instruction has a reference point for assessing its results. The TEKS provide a direction for competence and educational effectiveness, but without creating a “one shoe fits all” model. The TEKS can enhance weak arts instruction to improve programs and help make good programs even better. Requiring the TEKS should result in teachers having to spend less time defending and advocating arts education and having more time to teach children art, dance, music, and theatre.
TEA has posted a "Question & Answer" document on the Division of Curriculum website at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/curriculumto assist school districts with implementation of these revisions to TAC 74. In addition to reflecting the intent and language of SB 815, the TAC 74 revisions support Objective 4 of TEC 4.001, which states, "A well-balanced and appropriate curriculum will be provided to all students." With the SB 815 legislation and these rule revisions to TAC 74, fine arts education in Texas takes another significant step forward as a core academic subject as identified in "No Child Left Behind" and as a model for other states in our nation.
Waggoner is Director of Fine Arts, Texas Education Agency