DAVID GREENE, HOST:
In this country, President Obama signed a new education law last week. Much of the focus has been on testing and a debate over whether the law moved too far away from rigorous standards. But one group celebrating the law advocates for arts education. NPR's Elizabeth Blair explains why.
ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: First, some clarification, elementary and high school students will still be tested under the new law. There just won't be so much riding on the scores. Also the arts didn't disappear under the old law, No Child Left Behind. But, Christopher Woodside of the National Association for Music Education says with so much time spent testing math and reading, the arts suffered.
CHRISTOPHER WOODSIDE: They lost time and resources and focus.
BLAIR: Woodside thinks the new law is a sea change for school arts programs, especially music.
WOODSIDE: The main reason why we're so happy is because in the well-rounded education definition, which appears towards the end of the bill in the general provisions but informs the entire legislation, there is a distinct stand-alone listing for music for the first time in American history.
GALLEGO INTERMEDIATE FINE ARTS MAGNET SCHOOL CHOIR: (Singing) See the little birch in the meadow.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Breathe.
BLAIR: This is the choir from the Gallego Intermediate Fine Arts Magnet School in Tucson, Ariz. The principal there, Anna Warmbrand, says the new emphasis on a well-rounded education has potential because it seems to value the arts as much as core subjects. Warmbrand says theater, dance, visual arts and music have both intrinsic value and help kids develop other skills.
ANNA WARMBRAND: For our students to be well-rounded, to go out into the business world and be successful, they need to have presentation skills. They need to have their confidence. They need to have something they're very good at that's outside of an academic traditional thought of academic nature.
BLAIR: And then there is morale, or as educators call it, engagement. When's the last time parents went to school to see their kids take a math test? They go for performances. Sandra Ruppert is with the Council of Chief State School Officers.
SANDRA RUPPERT: Things like student engagement, parent involvement, school climate and culture now can be part of a state's accountability system.
BLAIR: And that's the thing. It's now up to the states to figure out how they implement that definition of a well-rounded education, in other words, where they spend federal funds. The new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, has suggestions like computer science, health, foreign language and geography. So there's no guarantee the arts will now flourish. Arts advocates are ready to help states and school districts with their plans. The Music Educators Association even has a toolkit for things like helping music teachers access funds. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.