How do North Carolina’s arts education policies compare to other states?

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  • North Carolina is among the many states that recognize the benefits of the arts in education. Here’s a look at how arts education policies being employed in the state and across the country are promoting the arts.
  • A 2020 law made one arts education credit mandatory for high school graduation in North Carolina. Here is a look at what other policies are being employed across the country to promote arts education.
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Just as with traditional courses like math and history, arts classes like visual arts, dance, theater, and music provide students with tools for success that serve them through adulthood. Unlike most traditional courses, though, arts education is an outlet for self-expression that students can use to explore their creativity. 

Student in Roper, N.C. explaining his mural, part of the AIM after school program. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

The proven long-term benefits of arts classes have motivated states across the country to incorporate the arts into education legislation. North Carolina is one of the many states that recognizes the impact of the arts on a student’s success and well-being. However, states across the country have implemented policies expanding student access to the arts that could inspire changes for North Carolina.

Why the arts matter

The importance of uplifting the arts in public education is best illustrated by the benefits these classes have to offer. For students in Ohio elementary schools, the arts built language skills that contributed to increased performance on proficiency tests in math, science, and social studies when compared to students with less access to the arts.

Arts education has also been praised for its connection to increased educational attainment. Visual arts students are more likely than non-arts students to graduate from high school and pursue a college degree. These effects enhance the educational experience for traditionally under-served students and can help minimize racial achievement gaps. 

The benefits of an arts education are not just confined to the classroom setting. For instance, though dance is one of the least available arts in public education, these programs create lasting cultural connections and help students develop their movement and motor skills.

Sallie B Howard Dance Festival 2022 in Wilson, NC. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Through theater classes, students develop their self-confidence, which contributes to a long-lasting positive sense of self-identity. And in music classes, students gain skills crucial to high performance in the workplace, such as increased attentiveness and perseverance.

A look at arts education across the country

The Arts Education Partnership, a national network supported by the U.S. Department of Education that is dedicated to advancing arts education, has created an online comparison tool of arts education policies in each state, called ArtScan.

Thirty-two states across the country, including North Carolina, define the arts as a core academic subject alongside English, math, and science. But prioritizing arts education goes beyond acknowledging the arts.

In New Hampshire, for example, elementary, middle, and high schools are required to offer arts classes, and school accreditation standards encompass arts education. New Hampshire is one of the 11 states that conducts arts education assessments, where student outcomes are evaluated by either the state, district, or school to ensure learning objectives in these classes are being met.

Another effort to promote arts education pathways has taken the form of high school diploma arts seals. In Arizona, students have access to sequential arts instruction throughout their high school years. Fulfilling a four-credit minimum requirement is one of the qualifiers for receiving the Arizona State Seal of Arts Proficiency.

The seals are federally funded at no…

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