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N.C. to Require Arts Integration in Teacher-Prep Programs

Efforts to promote integration of the arts across the curriculum got a boost in North Carolina last month, when Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue signed legislation stipulating that those studying to become elementary teachers get some grounding in the concept.

The measure, contained in a broader education bill, says elementary education programs "shall ensure" that teacher candidates "are prepared to integrate arts education across the curriculum."

Arts integration is nothing new, but it does seem to be building some momentum lately. For example, I recently wrote an EdWeek story about initiatives to promote adding an "A" for the arts into the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) acronym, so that the arts are infused across the disciplines.

Karen Wells, the executive director of Arts North Carolina, acknowledged that it's not exactly clear yet what changes the state's measure may prompt, but she sees it as an important step.

"What it means is a hard question to answer," she told me recently. "Knowing how to integrate the arts has always been a part of teacher standards, but it's never been required, and to me that is the big difference here."

Wells said she also sees this as a move towards advancing further measures to enhance the arts in North Carolina schools.

"To me, we got the window open," she said.

The legislature's action comes on the heels of an April report from the Arts Education Commission, a statewide panel appointed last year by the General Assembly.

The commission came up with several proposals for state legislation, including a call to require that all high school students earn at least one arts education credit to graduate.

The legislature, however, did not pass such a bill in the recently completed term.

A July 7 opinion piece in the News & Observer newspaper of Raleigh made the case for enhancing arts education across North Carolina.

"When it comes to arts education, North Carolina has a proud history of leading the pack," it says. "But overall, arts education is simply not a priority. ... On average, schools employ just one arts educator for 275 students.

The Op-Ed was written by Christopher Gergen—the CEO of Forward Ventures and a fellow at Duke University's Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship—and Stephen Martin, the director of the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership.

In their article, they make the case that the graduation requirement is a key step.

"North Carolina has a chance to lead in our region by passing a bill that mandates a minimum of arts instruction," they write. "It's not exactly the grand vision that inspired the N.C. School of the Arts, but it's an important step toward giving the arts their due—and better preparing our state for the future."

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