Arts and music programs, as they have always been in our public schools, are in grave danger. Rampant budget shortfalls, coupled with a new focus on standardized testing, is transforming these programs into shadows of their former selves. In many cases, they are even being placed onto the administration’s chopping block. Arts and music are not included in Common Core curriculum, being something unquantifiable, and not aligned with perceived ‘career expectations’. Because these programs are not state tested, continuing to support them does nothing to improve the ‘national rankings’ that so many use to judge the quality of a school. As an even further detriment to arts and music, a new trend has found teachers evaluated for pay and tenure based upon the test scores of their pupils. Despite numerous documented problems with the use of this model, this method is increasingly being implemented. So what does a school do when it has no testing to base its judgement on? Many schools are finding it easier to eliminate arts and music programs altogether than to try to figure out a fair way to assess its staff. In other cases, some arts and music teachers will receive only basic compensation despite extensive experience in their field, and many will find teaching in public schools is no longer a financially viable option.
So what can be done to keep art and music from going the way of the dinosaur in our public schools? In her article, “Solutions to Cuts in Art & Music Programs in Public Schools”, Erica Loop mentions a few options, such as securing federal grants or seeking private funding. Many of these can be difficult to obtain, as there are many schools in similar need. One of her suggestions, and something I have personal experience with, is that of a ‘student-led’ community effort. I had a wonderful experience with music and arts programs from my days in public school. When I learned of the budget cuts, I started looking for ways to give back to programs that had given me so much. I helped to organize and run (with help from a music club in the local high school) a series of benefit concerts featuring local artists and kids from within the school. We donated all of the profits made from ticket sales to the music program, helping with expenses like repairing instruments and buying sheet music. We were able to bring in hundreds of dollars for the school. Eventually, the kids were able to take over without our help, and continued to raise money from these events.
Showing a large community interest in the continuation of arts and music can also be useful for influencing the decisions of administrators in cash-strapped school districts. A strong outpouring of public involvement might even give pause to the act of cutting an endangered arts program. Make your voice heard, and do not let the creativity of our children be quashed by the new, test-based style of learning. We want to raise a generation of well-rounded citizens, not test-taking drones.
What the Research Says
For those wishing to gain further insight into the benefits of keeping arts within our schools, I found some interesting sources of information:
Hawkins, Tyleah. “Will Less Art and Music in the Classroom Really Help Students Soar Academically?” WashingtonPost.com. The Washington Post, 28 Dec. 2012. Web. 3 June 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/therootdc/post/will-less-art-and-music-in-the-classroom-really-help-students-soar-academically/2012/12/28/e18a2da0-4e02-11e2-839d-d54cc6e49b63_blog.html>
This article gives some background on the situation of teachers within the affected schools, but the most powerful aspect of this article comes from the results of some of the studies they include. For example: “Low-income students who had arts-rich experiences in high schools were more than three times as likely to earn a B.A. as low-income students without those experiences.” It also mentions a study that shows students with an ‘arts rich’ education scored an average of 91 points higher on SAT tests than those without such experience. In a society obsessed with quantifiable results, these studies show a clear correlation between arts programs and higher learning.
Brown, Laura Lewis. “The Benefits of Music Education.” PBS.org. PBS. Web. 3 June 2015. <http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/music-arts/the-benefits-of-music-education/>
This piece of writing goes into great detail about many of the benefits that can be reaped by giving students access to arts programs in their education. “Growing up in a musically rich environment is often advantageous for children’s language development… Language competence is at the root of social competence. Musical experience strengthens the capacity to be verbally competent.” Improved language skill was just a part of the multitude of advantages the arts can confer to a developing mind. The article even discusses research that found changes in the neural networks of children whom received arts education, showing improvement in things like sound discrimination and fine motor skills.
Williams, Yohuru. “Rhythm and Bruise: How Cuts to Music and the Arts Hurt Kids and Communities.” HuffingtonPost.com. The Huffington Post, 17 Sept. 2014. Web. 3 June 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yohuru-williams/rhythm-and-bruise-how-cut_b_5838406.html>
This great bit of commentary shows that even though artistic skill is difficult to ‘test’, it is not impossible to see development from students. The problem with our new, testing-centric style of evaluation is that the arts are seen as a secondary, or even an unnecessary, part of public education. However, as Yohuru Williams so eloquently states, “The intangible benefits of [arts included in] public education will never appear in the sterile strips of data represented by tests scores.” He goes on to explain ways in which advancement in artistic skill can be measured, and how skill in the arts can enrich not just the student’s life, but also the community as a whole.
How to Get Involved
If you wish to continue to have arts programs available in our public schools, there are a number of ways you can get involved:
- For those with a talent for persuasive writing, you can help your local schools by applying for grants and securing donors. Tracy Kaufman gives some solid advice on appealing to potential funders in her “Fundraising for Arts Education” post.
- Those that wish to be more involved in the public debate for support of the arts can join the Americans for the Arts Action Fund, to have more of a say in upcoming policy decisions.
- You can also volunteer within your local schools, perhaps even helping to teach an afterschool program. Schools, especially those with restricted budgets, are often shorthanded, and could always use extra help.
- If none of those catches your eye, there is a ton of great activities found in “50 Successful School Fundraising Ideas”. The list is very diverse, and I am sure at least one of those will make you stop and say, “You know what? I can do that!”
With all of us working together, we can start to see a positive change for the future of our children.