When a school’s funds are slashed, usually some of the first things to get cut are art, music and gym classes, despite overwhelming research that shows how valuable these classes are to helping kids become better learners and more well-rounded individuals. The good news is that many of these classes are finally making a comeback in public schools, though not for the reasons you might expect.
Surprisingly, student retention seems to be the main factor in the resurgence of gym, music and art classes. Having observed that students are either frequently absent or transfer to other schools entirely after these classes were dropped, school officials believe that reinstating these more “fun” forms of education are essential to reawaken student involvement.
While several major school districts throughout the country including Los Angeles, Nashville and San Diego are reintroducing these types of classes, NPR takes a closer look specifically at the Milwaukee Public School system. In previous years, the local board of education made the difficult decision to drop art, music and gym classes altogether in order to address massive budget cuts.
Although full-time teachers were subsequently laid off, the Milwaukee schools did maintain a limited number of part-time teachers to visit schools to teach music or gym as a “special” activity. Though the visits were infrequent, principals noticed that student attendance was especially high when the kids knew that these special activities would be happening.
Noticing this enthusiasm, in conjunction with the fact that many students were transferring out to enroll in nearby suburban schools that still offered a diversity of classes in the arts, Milwaukee’s superintendent, Gregory Thornton, agreed that reinstating these classes would be a smart decision for the schools. In addition to hiring back full-time teachers, many students will have at least one gym, art, or music class each day.
“You want to create something where our families want to reinvest in our school district,” said Thorton. “And at the end of the day, I want kids excited about getting up in the morning.”
Schools have also discovered that art, music and gym classes are also critical in boosting parental involvement. Parents who miss back to school night and parent-teacher conferences are more motivated to show up for afterschool sports games, choral concerts, or art shows. Engaging parents in the school community helps to keep them in that community, as well.
Financially, it makes sense for schools to prioritize these classes. Since schools collect funds based on not just enrollment, but how many students physically show up for the day, giving kids a reason not to pretend to call out sick means more dollars for the school.
Alas, in Milwaukee’s case, the money needed to refund these classes appeared in a less favorable way: by cutting employee benefits. Though it’s a problem that school staff must suffer the cost, (particularly when other U.S. expenditures like incessant warfare seemingly have no budget), it’s still encouraging to see the resurgence of physical and music education. Even if principals’ motivations aren’t entirely altruistic, improvements are likely to be seen across the board all the same.