Did you look forward to your arts classes when you were at school? Or were they mostly a waste of time? Or non-existent?
Today, January 31, is Art Day, which makes it the perfect opportunity to reflect on the impoortance of the arts in K-12 education. In spite of, or perhaps because of, my own experience attending a British high school where the arts were not considered important if you were on the brainy track (I was), it’s clear to me that an arts education is crucial. It’s not just about allowing kids to develop right-brain skills of flexible thinking and creative problem-solving, but also to ensure an enriched cultural appetite, stronger analytical skills, and higher achievement in other subjects. That was the conclusion of a 2008 study by The Education Commission of the States, which found that arts can play a critical role in improving the academic performance of students. In a national sample of 25,000 students, those students “with high levels of arts-learning experiences” earned higher grades and scored better on standardized tests than those with little or no involvement in the arts-regardless of socioeconomic status. Learning through the arts also appears to have significant effects on learning in other disciplines, with “students consistently involved in theater and music showing higher levels of success in math and reading.”
And of course these classes are also fun. I’ve known plenty of students in my teaching career who were pretty turned-off to school, and would have dropped out, but the chance of performing in the school jazz band, or showing their
work in the art show, kept them coming back.
So what’s going on in arts education today? With so much research documenting how arts education can improve test scores, it’s ironic that since the advent of No Child Left Behind(NCLB), with its emphasis on the importance of these scores, the amount of hours devoted to the arts in our nation’s schools has deteriorated. A survey by the Center on Education Policy in 2006 found that in the five years after enactment of NCLB, 44 percent of districts nationwide had increased instruction time in elementary school English language arts and math while decreasing time spent on other subjects, including art, music, science and social studies. A further analysis, released in February 2008, showed that a further 16 percent of districts had reduced elementary school class time for music and art, and had done so by an average of 35 percent, or 57 minutes a week. In a typical scenario, a middle school in California saw its final orchestra performance in May 2005, when the local school board decided to eliminate instrumental music instruction in its fifteen schools in order to save money; a New Hampshire school board elected to eliminate elementary music, art, and physical education programs districtwide. The future of arts education in our public schools looks even more grim, to judge by what’s going on in Los Angeles. Due to the budget crisis, the Los Angeles Unified School District(LAUSD) plans to eliminate 50% of its elementary arts teachers (dance, music-general/vocal and instrumental,
theatre and visual arts), or 173 of 345 teachers for the 2010-2011 school year, and fire the remaining 50% in 2011-2012.
Thankfully, there are some signs of hope around the country: in Dallas a coalition of arts advocates, philanthropists, educators and business leaders has worked hard to get arts into all schools. Today, for the first time in thirty years, evey elementary student in the Dallas Independent School District receives forty-five minutes a week of art and music instruction. A similar push is happening in Minneapolis and Chicago, where arts advocates are working to bring sustainable arts programs to the schools, not add-ons that can disappear with a budget crisis. And Arizona’s state superintendent of public instruction, Tom Horne, has made it his goal to bring high-quality, comprehensive arts education to all K-12 students.
“When you think about the purposes of education, there are three,” Horne says. “We’re preparing kids for jobs. We’re preparing them to be citizens. And we’re teaching them to be human beings who can enjoy the deeper forms of beauty. The third is as important as the other two.” Now if only Horne could have a word with Ramon Cortines, the superintendent of the LAUSD!
So what are you doing to do to celebrate Art Day?
Creative Commons - Nazareth College