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States across the country have adopted the Common Core State Standards and schools are beginning to

implement new curriculum this year. Opera companies continue to offer an impressive volume of K-12 programs ranging in scope, while facing increasing pressure to articulate the value of sustained arts education in schools. The opera field marks this opportunity to demonstrate how their efforts meet required st curriculum standards and contribute to student achievement in the 21 century. This national statement prepares the field to navigate the new standards and articulate how opera company programs are suited to achieving Common Core learning goals.

Common Core State Standards — An Overview The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) released in 2010 “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.

The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.” They are also meant to promote equity by ensuring all students, no matter where they live, are well prepared with the skills and knowledge necessary to collaborate and compete with their peers in the United States and abroad (National Governors, Mission Statement and Frequently Asked Questions). The Common Core State Standards Initiative is led by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The standards were developed with input from teachers, parents, researchers and educational experts. The federal government was not involved in its development. To date, 45 states have adopted the standards and most of these will begin implementation in the 2013-2014 school year. Assessments to test student mastery of the standards are being developed by Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). These are expected to be available in 2014-2015.

The standards focus on English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics as foundational skill sets for studying other subject areas: history/social studies, science and technical subjects. The term “technical subjects” is defined by the standards as “[a] course devoted to practical study, such as engineering, technology, design, business or other workforce-related subject; a technical aspect of a wider field of study, such as art or music” (National Governors, ELA Appendix A, Glossary of Key Terms). Standards for history/social studies, science and technical subjects are integrated into the K-5 standards. For grades 6the standards provide some specificity, but primarily refer to the Career and College Readiness anchor standards and high school standards in literacy to define expectations. The ELA standards explain that “literacy standards for grade 6 and above are predicated on teachers of ELA, history/social studies, science and technical subjects using their content area expertise to help students meet the particular challenges of reading, writing, speaking, listening and language in their respective fields.” In both ELA and mathematics, the documents outline standards for content and skills with an emphasis on process-based learning; that is, students must demonstrate competency in certain areas, but with a focus on their abilities such as analyzing, critiquing, comparing, interpreting, integrating and evaluating.

Arts and Common Core The Common Core State Standards Initiative has not created an arts-specific component, yet the arts field has responded poignantly, arguing for equity and quality of arts instruction as a part of a comprehensive education. The arts continue to be defined as a core academic subject under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also known as No Child Left Behind), acknowledging the relevance of the arts in a complete education and allowing the arts to be eligible for federal funding from the Department of Education. However, a 2011 national survey by the Farkas Duffett Research Group found that two-thirds of teachers say that other subjects (such as the arts) “get crowded out by extra attention being paid to math or language arts.” As reported in the 2009-2010 U.S. Department of Education’s Fast Response Statistical Survey, schools with a higher concentration of students in poverty were less likely to offer arts education (Parsad, Basmat and Spiegelman, Maura,14 28). The results of the study were alarming enough to prompt U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to declare the status of arts education “an equity issue and a civil rights issue,” and to conclude that “A well-rounded education is simply too vital to our students’ success to let the teaching of the arts and humanities erode.” In recent years, the Arts Education Working Group, a coalition of national arts and arts education advocacy organizations (including OPERA America) issued a unified statement titled “Creating Student Success in School, Work, and Life”. This statement aligns neatly with the goals of Common Core and explains that our st nation needs schools to prepare students to meet the demands of the 21 century both for the students’ sake and for the sake of our economy and our society. These demands cannot be met without comprehensive arts education in our nation’s schools. It goes on to explain how “the arts equip students with a creative, competitive edge” (Arts Education, 1).

Many arts advocates and researchers have built on this argument to show that there is natural alignment between the goals of the Common Core State Standards and the work that arts educators and arts organizations already do. David Coleman, one of the authors of the standards, developed the “Guiding Principles for the Arts” and details how arts-learning parallels many of the defining competencies of ELA, such as skills in observation and interpretation. The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS) states, “The Common Core can potentially provide arts teachers with a common language with which to describe the cognitive skills that they are already addressing and cultivating through rigorous and meaningful arts experiences” (The College Board, 4). The following sections outline a framework for opera companies to identify the natural alignment between their work and the standards, and highlight language from the standards for opera companies to use when working with schools.

Opera and the Common Core State Standards The very nature of opera, as an inherently multidisciplinary art form, has allowed opera companies and schools to develop ways to incorporate opera into the curriculum. Over the years, opera education programs have provided students with various ways to experience and engage with the art form, while supporting substantive classroom conceptual connections. Below the term “opera learning” is used broadly to describe a range of K-12 programs, which generally reflect three categories. (See Appendix A for examples.)

1. Creating and Performing Opera: any aspect of opera composing, libretto writing, performing and production, whether it be original work or re-imaginings of existing narrative work.

2. Learning About Opera: activities that are rooted in a specific repertoire including studying the composer, librettist, and primary sources. Gaining knowledge of opera history, specific opera conventions, notable singers, and historical and cultural contexts. Understanding the dramatic, technical and aesthetic aspects of production elements. Oftentimes these activities culminate in attending a performance.

3. Opera Career Readiness: engaging with opera professionals, including technicians, administrators and contemporary creators/performers, oftentimes with a focus on transferring learning to a work setting.

As an important part of mission fulfillment and organizational sustainability, K-12 education programs continue to be a vital and growing part of what opera companies do. Even though overall company expenses fell an average of 8% between 2009 and 2011, spending on education programs during that same time rose by 5%, totaling almost half a million dollars in additional spending toward education across the field. In 2011 alone, opera companies produced more than 1,600 events designed for children and youth, reaching more than 400,000 (OPERA America). Across the field, opera companies are devoting entire productions to serving students, with even the smallest sized companies (those with budgets of less than $1 million) maintaining significant activity in schools.

Opera learning programs are tailored to the immediate needs of schools, students and local standards, and range in scope and scale across the country. For example, many opera companies enhance their programs for students with further professional development for classroom teachers or arts specialists. In all cases, companies make decisions as to the content and delivery of programs, influenced by season repertoire, given specialties of available teaching artists or staff, and, of course, program funding. Similarly, the Common Core State Standards do not dictate how teachers should teach or how students should be assessed. Instead, they provide a useful framework for articulating the mutual goals shared by schools and opera companies that drive the content choices and activities of opera learning programs.

***** Opera encompasses all fine arts disciplines and deals with subject matter drawn from literature, history and myriad cultural contexts. The creation and study of opera is inherently collaborative and complex.

Opera performance is characterized by artistic excellence which stems from historical traditions, and continues to be reinvented through the use of modern technologies. The art form‘s multifaceted nature inherently allows for connections across educational disciplines and, therefore, across the Common Core Standards.

Opera and English Language Arts At the broadest level, there is clear alignment between opera and the values embodied in the Common Core State Standards for ELA. The College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards (CCRA), provide broad definitions of the skills and understandings that all students must demonstrate. The grade-specific standards provide additional specificity. There is clear alignment between opera and the anchor standards for Reading Literature (RL), Informational Texts (RI), Speaking and Listening (SL) and Language (L). In some cases, opera is a strongly suited medium to teach that particular skill. The following standards show

direct connections to the art form:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.2.4 Describe how words and phrases (e.g., regular beats, alliteration, rhymes, repeated lines) supply rhythm and meaning in a story, poem or song.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.5 Explain major differences between poems, drama and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.7 Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem).

CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively and orally.

CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

There are a variety of ways that opera programs can address specific standards. For example, when

studying opera repertoire, students are likely to:

CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Creating an original work is likely to involve writing exercises where students:

CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Throughout the standards each section is notated using a code. Grade-specific standards are indicated with CCSS, followed by the content section name, the content “strand” acronym, the grade level and the standard number. This example indicates Reading Literature, grade 2, standard 4. Anchor standards, which are consistent across grades, have a content acronym and a standard number. For example, CCRA SL.2 is Speaking and Listening, standard 2.

CCRA.W.4 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes and audiences.

In addition, learning to sing and act in an opera might touch on “Reading: Foundational Skills” where students are expected to demonstrate an “understanding of spoken words, syllables and sounds (phonemes) as a part of “Phonological Awareness”. Opera companies may include writing an opinion

about attending a performance which aligns with:

CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

ELA Standard 10 (Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity) calls for a “staircase” of increasing text complexity where students build knowledge overtime and study topics or themes in depth, sourced from a broad range of cultures and time periods. The range of texts in literature includes stories, folktales and fables, as well as staged dialogue and poetry. Many operas are based on such works. Informational texts include materials on history and the arts, in addition to technical texts. Texts about opera history and technical aspects of opera production also fall into this category. See Appendix B for a list of operas based on literary texts and other opera-related texts.

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