Which school do you want to support?
Some children seem destined to excel in the arts. They draw incessantly. They win at Pictionary. They love music, or drawing, or dance. Arts education, however, is intended not simply for students who possess artistic “talent.” It is for all children.
Knowledge sticks more easily when it is beautiful, or compelling, or funny.
The arts are not just "what" children learn but also "how" children learn. Knowledge sticks more easily when it is beautiful, or compelling, or funny. Comedian Steven Wright quipped "Why is the alphabet in that order? Is it because of that song?" Pablo Picasso observed that "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." Research suggests that arts education provides children with many benefits including improved academic achievement and emotional and social development. There is a strong relationship between arts education and the fundamental cognitive skills that students use to master core subjects such as reading, writing, and mathematics.
Arts education can also improve students’ ability to communicate effectively (for example through drawing) and can teach the importance of teamwork/collaboration (for example in music or other performance arts).
The arts show up in our classrooms in two ways: (1) Integrated into lessons in many areas of the curriculum and (2) taught as distinct disciplines. The latter include visual arts, music, dance, the theatre arts, criticism, history, and aesthetics. In its broadest sense, it comprises instruction in the making/creating of art and art appreciation.
Students in California receive much less instruction in visual arts and music than students in other states.
The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) defines the arts as a part of a "well-rounded education." The California State Board of Education has adopted content standards for Visual and Performing Arts for kindergarten through 12th grade. However, facing tough budget choices and intense pressure to improve English and mathematics performance, many schools have nearly eliminated arts education from their curriculum over the past few decades. In California, participation in music classes dropped 46% from 1999 through 2004. A statewide study of arts education in California in 2007 indicated that 89% of K-12 schools did not offer a standards-based course of study in the visual arts, music, theater, and dance. Because the primary measure of a school's achievement has been students' reading/writing and math scores, there has been little pressure to increase instructional time in untested subjects. Arts instruction has measurably declined as an unintended consequence of this focus.
California could ill afford this decline. In 2007, a study of instructional hours per year for music and visual arts in elementary schools documented that California children were spending less time on the arts than children nationally back in 1999-2000.
Art program advocates warn that the decline in arts education has created a generation of both teachers and parents who may not now fully appreciate the broader importance of the arts. To start to address this massive decline, a 2015 report, A Blueprint for Creative Schools [PDF] outlines strategies to making the arts a core part of education for all students in California public schools.
The California State PTA has embarked on a campaign in support of arts education as well. The Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership, founded by the Alameda County Office of Education, is a collaborative network that works to develop public understanding of the essential role of arts learning in education. Statewide, a coalition of major arts and education advocates have joined together under CreateCA to advance an education model that promotes creativity and the arts for the workforce of tomorrow.
Classes in the arts tend to be most available to students in well-funded schools. Based on the SRI study, for example, music and visual arts instruction are only provided to about a quarter of students in high-poverty schools in California.
Many suggest that increasing arts in the schools is a key strategy for closing the achievement gap. A study of New York City graduation rates, Staying In School: Arts Education & NYC High School Graduation Rates suggests that increasing students’ access to arts instruction in schools with low graduation rates can be a successful strategy for lifting graduation rates and turning around struggling schools, not just in New York City, but nationwide.
Including the arts in a student’s education also contributes to the variety of the school experience: Kids like the arts! Access to instruments and materials can be a real obstacle to arts education, but where there is a will there is a way, so long as there is someone willing to teach.
The Right Brain Initiative makes this argument somewhat more artistically in the following video:
In California, funding for arts education is the responsibility of school districts as part of the Local Control Funding Formula. The state does not require schools to commit a particular level of funding to the arts. If art education is starved in your district, it represents a local choice about funding priorities and strategies at the district or school level. Some districts fund arts, music and athletics as part of their core budget; others look to their school communities to raise extra money for these programs.
Questions to ask about arts education:
The next lesson examines another part of the school experience that many students find enjoyable: physical education.
Search all lesson and blog content here.
Not a member? Join now.
or via email
Already Joined Ed100? Sign In.
or via email