Advocates hope visual and performing arts will take their place next to the core subjects of math, reading, social studies and science if the Nebraska Board of Education approves newly drafted standards.

“It’s a huge deal if they accept them,” said Debbie DeFrain, director of fine arts curriculum and instruction for the Nebraska Department of Education. “Our entire process with the writers throughout the last six months has been with the goal in mind that (the standards) would be given that weight, that (they're) an essential part of a complete education.”

Just how that will happen will be up to the state board. The first step would be to approve the standards.

If they become a part of the state’s Rule 10, then districts would have to either adopt them or their own standards of equal or greater rigor.

If they don’t become a part of Rule 10, which sets out the regulations schools accredited by the state must follow, they would be more of a guideline for districts but still would send a strong message to educators.

“It would be a huge statement on what the board sees as important,” said Donlynn Rice, administrator of curriculum, instruction and innovation for the Department of Education.

If the board approves the draft standards, they will be put on the department’s website and the public will be able to weigh in with an electronic survey later this month and at a Jan. 16 public hearing. 

The Nebraska Arts Council provided a $46,000 grant to the department to develop the first fine arts standards the state has ever had, and the department has worked with both professional artists and arts educators to draft standards in theater, dance, music, visual and media arts.

As with other state standards the fine arts standards set out broad concepts for each area, then include more specific requirements in grade bands (kindergarten-second grade; third-fifth grade, sixth-eighth grades and ninth-12th grades) becoming more complex and in depth in the later grades.

And, as with other standards, the requirements are broad enough that school districts can adapt them to their own curriculum and decide exactly how they want to teach the material.

In the visual arts standards, for example, the broad standard requires students “develop and apply the ideas, knowledge and skills in art to create, respond to, present and connect with the human experience.”

Under that broad goal, then, students in kindergarten-second grade must “support personal choice” by telling why they like a piece of art. By high school, students must “critique and defend how aesthetic choice impacts the visual image and/or intended message.”

DeFrain said the standards were drafted with many ideas for educators, since some of the areas -- such as dance and media arts -- will likely be taught as part of other classes. Dance, for instance, might be taught as part of a P.E. class and media arts may be integrated in other core subjects.

“Even though we very much feel ... teaching art for art’s sake is very important, integration is also important,” DeFrain said.

Nebraska is one of only three states that has developed media arts standards, DeFrain said.

Rice said authors of the media arts standards tried to stay away from trendy words like “Twitter” and “tweeting” and focus more on skills, since technology changes so rapidly.

Board member Lillie Larsen, a longtime arts advocate, said she was pleased to see the emphasis on performance in music and on creating portfolios in the visual arts.

DeFrain said the arts is one area in which all students can succeed without remediation -- extra classes many students take in math and reading to catch up.

“It’s the spirit, the soul of the students the fine arts standards will bring out,” she said.

Reach Margaret Reist at 402-473-7226 or