Cheating may be the most worrisome issue that's come up under No Child Left Behind, but others keep appearing. States and school districts report that the rush to boost test scores in reading and math is crowding out other subjects. Perhaps the one that's been hurt the most is arts education. The NCLB law itself describes art as part of the "core curriculum," but that isn't how it's turning out.
One governor, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, wants the language on arts education treated seriously. His campaign to make that happen has been a pleasant surprise to some who don't normally think of the Razorback State as an aesthetic oasis. "Huckabee planting the flag on arts education is hugely important," says Frederick Hess, education doyen at the American Enterprise Institute.
Beginning this September, Arkansas will require all public schools to provide instruction in art and music to every student. Huckabee fought off legislative attempts to water down the requirement, notably the minimum amount of time to be spent on arts each week and the mandate that every school hire at least one certified arts instructor.
A Baptist minister who has played the guitar since he was 11, Huckabee offers familiar arguments about how art and music help kids develop cognitive skills and boost scores in the basic subjects that are the main focus of school testing. But he makes other points as well. Active participation in the arts, he says, teaches the "great life lesson that successful people spend hours and hours preparing for the brief moments when they're in the spotlight."
Huckabee's state isn't entirely alone in its campaign for arts education. South Carolina and Virginia require it, and Denver voters approved a property tax increase last fall to pay for it. Right now, however, they are more the exception than the rule. The arts have long been a poor cousin when it comes to public funding, and amid the pressures of NCLB, school systems aren't tripping over each other in the race to change that. "It's a tough time for anybody to champion the arts," says Larry Peeno of the National Art Education Association.