California’s draft Arts Education Framework is open for public comment. Five reasons why you should read it.

By Mary Beth Barber

California public school students have learned visual and performing arts under a series of standards and a framework that is 20 years old. That’s about to change. The State Board of Education adopted a new series of California Arts Standards for dance, media arts, theatre, music and visual arts in January 2019, and is poised to pair that up with a new Arts Framework as well.

Professional education writers worked diligently with a team of 20 arts education advisors for months from January to August this year. The draft Arts Framework is available for a first round of public review until December 1. Here are five reasons why you should read the draft Arts Framework and comment before the deadline.

1.       The Arts Framework will likely be in place past 2030. The Arts Framework will be the leading guide for dance, media arts, music, theater and visual arts in California public schools. Information includes descriptions of arts integration, how to access a student’s progress in the arts, the connections between the arts disciplines, copyright and digital citizenship issues, arts for diverse classrooms and arts instruction for different types of learners. CDE published the last arts framework in 2004. This one will likely be in place for at least a decade, likely more. This is the time to have input.

2.       How schools teach the arts shifts with the new Arts Standards. The previous Visual and Performing Arts standards had a focus on content. The newly adopted Arts Standards are grounded in arts processes with anchor standards based on these processes. This represents a significant shift from the previous content-focused standards. Feedback from the public can help insure the Arts Framework provides useful guidance in how to teach the arts with this adjustment.

3.        Media Arts now stands alone. Media arts was not considered its own VAPA discipline previously, but rather interspersed in the other four (e.g. filmmaking in theatre, sound design in music) or presented as career technical education. That has changed, and going forward schools will teach media arts in VAPA. Describing media arts instruction proved to be a new challenge. Educators and professionals in the field are encouraged to review the draft language, as well as educators and experts in the other disciplines as well.

4.       Prevent unintended consequences. While instructional frameworks are advisory, most schools abide by frameworks to the letter, and the language in a framework can have far-reaching consequences. Example: the previous arts framework stated that dance education meant artistic movement and not calisthenics or social dancing. But the word used to describe social dancing was ballroom. As a result, very little in-classroom ballroom dancing was taught in California, regardless the evidence of artistic learning and social-emotional growth, especially for pre-teens. This new draft may clarify the ballroom issue, but could have similar conflicts that the advisory committee missed. The more people reading and commenting during public comment, the less likely this kind of situation will happen with the new Arts Framework.

5.       Advocate for more arts education. The Arts Framework is not just for those who teach the arts in the classroom. Audiences include teaching artists, arts-education advocates, administrators, creative-workforce representatives, nonprofit arts organization leaders, parents, students, and anyone in our local communities who supports arts education. The document directly addresses how to implement robust arts education in schools to further educational goals and positive school climate.

To read the various chapters, download the chapters from the California Arts Framework page from the Department of Education. Send comments to the Instructional Quality Commission through the Arts Framework Online Survey or by email to vapa@cde.ca.gov. When providing direct editorial edits or recommendations, utilize the line numbering as much as possible for straightforward consideration by the Commission.


 Mary Beth Barber is a professional teaching artist (theater, film) and longtime California state government administrator with over a decade at the California Arts Council (2005-2016). She’s currently at the California State Library working on K-12 related projects. She was one of the 20 arts education advisors on the Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee from January to August 2019. Reach her at marybeth.barber@library.ca.gov.