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New Arts Standards Proposed For Montana's Public Schools

The state of Montana is in the process of updating arts content standards for the state’s public schools.
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The state of Montana is in the process of updating arts content standards for the state’s public schools.";

The state of Montana is in the process of updating arts content standards for the state’s public schools. Office of Public Instruction Superintendent Denise Juneau has appointed a 16-member committee to consider recommendations presented to them by educators and artists from across the state.

But why do we need new arts standards?

“Right now they’re broad, they’re vague, they’re only at 4th, 8th, and upon graduation," Juneau says. "So these will be a little more specific by discipline—music, theater, visual arts, media arts, and so they’ll each have their own specific discipline area standards and be grade-by-grade in the elementary level. So it’s a big shift for arts education standards, but I think a good one and a necessary one.”

Media Arts has been added as a new category. It’s been 15 years since Montana’s public school arts standards were last revised, and Melanie Charlson, president of  the Missoula Education Association, believes technology is one reason this update is important.

“There’s been a lot of changes since 2000. We have a lot of new digital items, so media arts: Web site design, sound design, filmmaking might be a portion of that. Some of those courses are already taught in our public schools, but I think it opens the door to other media that leans on current technology, and I think it will open up different career paths for our students.”

Emily Kohring, Montana Arts Council Director of Arts Education, was part of the committee that drafted the new standards.

“We have teachers from Frazier school and teachers from Lame Deer and teachers from Kalispell and Bozeman and all over the state who came together in Great Falls and got to sit in the same room together and have a really thoughtful and engaging conversation about what arts education should look like in the 21st century in Montana schools.”

The new standards will be discipline-specific, unlike the previous version, which included all artistic disciplines under one broad set of standards. John Combs, another committee member and fine arts supervisor for Missoula County Public Schools, says it’s been a complicated process, but worth all the efforts of educators and artists from across the state.

"We have four artistic processes that we’re looking at, inside of five artistic disciplines, which are music, visual arts, dance, theater, and media arts. And those standards are looking at creating, presenting things to the public, responding, and connecting. So how are our students, how are they able to do that. And in each one of those there’s going to be anchor standards and expectations. And the committee has worked very, very hard to make sure that what we have for our students is going to be top notch."

Of course, cultural diversity is required for the new arts standards. Browning artist Valentina LaPier was eager to offer her perspective to the committee.

“I thought with my background of Blackfeet and Métis art, I could be of assistance. I would like the students to receive accuracy in Native subject matter.

And they will, because, says Superintendent Juneau: “Indian Education for All will be integrated right into the language of the standards, which I think is really important.”

The 16-member committee is meeting today in Helena, after which Superintendent Juneau will add her comments and progress will be reported to the board of public education and the interim education and local government committee. Juneau will then make a recommendation to the board of public education for adoption of the proposed standards. There will be public hearings and opportunities for written public comments before the board of education approves the new content standards.

A video at the OPI Website gives more detailed information about the arts content standards revision process.

Chérie Newman is an arts and humanities producer and on-air host for Montana Public Radio, and a freelance writer. Her weekly literary program, The Write Question, is broadcast on several public radio stations, and available online at PRX.org and MTPR.org.
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