Schools and teachers are evaluated based upon students’ academic achievement in core courses. But what actually drives the academic achievement in inner city schools?
All forms of art, music, dance, and media allow for creativity, inspiration, and expression and are the catalyst that spurs student interest and achievement in core academic subjects.
Studies show that many at-risk students in inner city schools have successfully completed their high school studies only because they participated in one or more arts programs. Thus, schools and districts should be proactive in applying for foundation, corporation and special government funded arts grants to enhance and support these programs. They need to avoid the yearly threat of discontinuing funding to balance the school budget.
The National Assembly of State Art Agencies in their report Critical Evidence, How the ARTS Benefit Student Achievement, cites evidence that:
“Students at risk of not successfully completing their high school educations cite their participation in the arts as reasons for staying in school. Factors related to the arts that positively affected the motivation of these students included a supportive environment that promotes constructive acceptance of criticism and one where it is safe to take risks.”
In fact, not only does arts education keep students in school and improve their academic success, it also has profound implications for their postsecondary education and other aspects of life as well.
A March 2012 report from the National Endowment for the Arts entitled: The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies highlights the benefits of arts education in both academic achievement and civic engagement for both low socioeconomic (SES) and high SES students. The study found a statically significant increase in post-secondary achievement for students who had in-depth arts programming, as measured against students with fewer arts classes.
Focusing particularly on low-SES students it was reported that:
Teenagers and young adults of low socioeconomic status (SES) who have a history of in-depth arts involvement show better academic outcomes than do low-SES youth who have less arts involvement. They earn better grades and demonstrate higher rates of college enrollment and attainment.
Among low-SES students:
1. Eighth graders who had high levels of arts engagement from kindergarten through elementary school showed higher test scores in science and writing than did students who had lower levels of arts engagement over the same period
2. Students who had arts-rich experiences in high school were more likely than students without those experiences to complete a calculus course. Also, students who took arts courses in high school achieved a slightly higher grade-point average (GPA) in math than did other students
3. In two separate databases, students who had arts-rich experiences in high school showed higher overall GPAs than did students who lacked those experiences.
4. High school students who earned few or no arts credits were five times more likely not to have graduated than students who earned many arts credits.
5. Both 8th-grade and high school students who had high levels of arts engagement were more likely to aspire to college than were students with less arts engagement
6. Arts-engaged high school students enrolled in competitive colleges—and in four-year colleges in general—at higher rates than did low-arts-engaged students.
7. Students who had intensive arts experiences in high school were three times more likely than students who lacked those experiences to earn a bachelor’s degree. They also were more likely to earn “mostly A’s” in college.
It should be noted that many of these benefits also accrued to arts-engaged high SES students.
Young adults who had intensive arts experiences in high school are more likely to show civic-minded behavior than young adults who did not. They take an interest in current affairs, as evidenced by comparatively high levels of volunteering, voting, and engagement with local or school politics. In many cases, this difference appears in both low- and high-SES groups.
The study found that eighth graders in both socioeconomic backgrounds were reported to read newspapers more frequently and volunteerism was more prevalent. High schools students from low SES backgrounds were also more likely to participate in school governments and service clubs and to vote or be politically involved.
Celebrities who have also benefited from arts education during their school years are championing the cause of art education in public schools. Actor/Singer Jack Black said:
“I don’t know what I would have done if I had not met Deb Devine, my first drama teacher, who inspired me and for the first time gave me a reason to really love going to school.”
Black, along with other celebrities like Lisa Kudrow and Adam Scott are rallying to the cause and lending their voices.
With all the available data, arts programs still seem to be the first to go when schools struggle to survive and meet the demands of all the other academic subjects, a negative trend that has been picking up speed since 2008.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan bemoaned the disappointing results of a 2012 ED survey that showed many students lacked adequate access to arts education, which led to advocates to say that “All children deserve arts-rich schools.”
In 2013 several large school systems slashed their budgets in part by cutting out arts education. Two such examples are the Chicago Public Schools and the Philadelphia City Schools. Chicago Public Schools laid off over 1,000 teachers when they closed more than 50 schools. Approximately 10% of teachers let go were art or music teachers, again art education being most affected. Philadelphia City Schools dealt with a $304 million budget shortfall by completely eliminating the arts and music curricula, as well as cuts in other areas.
Unfortunately the 2015-2016 school year promises more of the same. Atlanta Public Schools are eliminating band and drama programs, New York City budget cuts are threatening to eliminate arts education including graduation requirements, and Fairfax County, Virginia will be eliminating arts programming as well in order to cut $100 million from their budget, to name just a few.
So what are schools doing to counter these austere measures?
Some school districts are devising new ways of maintaining in school arts programming such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the country, that voted to make the arts a core subject.
Many schools and communities, however, are relying on nonprofit organizations to step up to the plate. Organizations such as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra through their OrchKids program are providing comprehensive arts education to students during and after school on a year-round basis.
Other nonprofits provide grant funding to schools and community organizations for a variety of arts related purposes. Arts grants support programs such as bringing artists in the classroom, performances, community cultural events, media events, and field trips, encourage social change.
Whether or not the government will refocus on funding arts education in the future remains to be seen. What we can be sure about is that in-depth arts education is an imperative, not a luxury, for PreK-12 students, and private donors will continue to be an important source of school and community arts funding in the coming years.