By Bob Morrison
As summer winds down and we prepare for the new school year, there has been a flurry of new studies and research reports unlocking new and important knowledge of the status, condition, and impact of music and arts education in our schools. I honestly cannot remember another period of time when so much new information came forward.
Federal Arts Education Fast Response Survey
The first report is from the US Department of Education, “Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 1999-2000 and 2009-10” (online at: nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2012014).
This report presents selected findings from a congressionally mandated study on arts education in public K–12 schools. The data was collected through seven Fast Response Survey System (FRSS) surveys during the 2009-10 school year. This report provides national data about arts education for public elementary and secondary schools, elementary classroom teachers, and elementary and secondary music and visual arts specialists. Comparisons with data from the 1999–2000 FRSS arts education study are included where applicable.
The Good News
- • The last decade has not generally produced a dramatic narrowing of the curriculum in the arts. There are several important exceptions to that pattern, which I’ll talk about in a moment.
- • It is encouraging to see music is available in almost all elementary schools for at least some of the students, and that more than 80 percent of elementary schools have visual arts instruction. There generally have not been significant declines in music and visual arts instruction.
The Bad News:
- • At more than 40 percent of our secondary schools, coursework in the arts was not a requirement for graduation in the 2009-10 school year.
- • High schools are doing too little to incorporate the arts as an expectation and component of career and college readiness for all students.
- • The decline in dance and theatre opportunities in the last decade has also been dramatic.
- • About one in five elementary schools offered dance or theatre a decade ago. Today, only one out of every 33 elementary schools offers dance, and just one in 25 elementary schools offer theatre.
These survey findings suggest that more than 1.3 million students in elementary school fail today to get any music instruction – and the same is true for about 800,000 secondary school students. All told, nearly 4 million elementary school students do not get any visual arts instruction at school during their formative learning years.
Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan noted, “Unfortunately, the arts opportunity gap is widest for children in high-poverty schools. This is absolutely an equity issue and a civil rights issue – just as is access to AP courses and other educational opportunities.”
Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth
The next report to call to your attention is “The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies” published by the National Endowment for the Arts (online at www.nea.gov/research/research.php?type=R).
This report examines arts-related variables from four large datasets – three maintained by the U.S. Department of Education and one by the Department of Labor – to understand the relationship between arts engagement and positive academic and social outcomes in children and young adults of low socioeconomic status (SES). Conducted by James Catterall, University of California Los Angeles, et al., the analyses show that achievement gaps between high- and low-SES groups appear to be mitigated for children and young adults who have arts-rich backgrounds
Some key findings:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Even among students of high socioeconomic status, those with a history of arts involvement earned “mostly A’s” at a higher rate than did students without an arts-rich background (55 percent versus 37 percent).
The overarching points from this report may be summarized in this way:
- Socially and economically disadvantaged children and teenagers who have high levels of arts engagement or arts learning show more positive outcomes in a variety of areas than their low-arts-engaged peers.
- At-risk teenagers or young adults with a history of intensive arts experiences show achievement levels closer to, and in some cases exceeding, the levels shown by the general population studied.
Very powerful stuff!
New Engines of Growth: Five Roles for Arts, Culture and Design
The National Governors Association released a report titled, “New Engines of Growth: Five Roles for Arts, Culture and Design” (online at tinyurl.com/chvgepj), which focuses on the roles that arts, culture and design can play as states seek to create jobs, boost their economies, and transition to an innovation-based economy. Abundant examples from states illustrate how arts, culture and design can assist states with economic growth by: (1) providing a fast-growth, dynamic industry cluster; (2) helping mature industries become more competitive; (3) providing critical ingredients for innovative places; (4) catalyzing community revitalization; and (5) delivering a better-prepared work force.
“Economic growth is a top priority for all governors,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a member of NGA’s Executive Committee. They are using an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach throughout all state agencies to put in place policies and programs using arts, culture and design as a means to enhance economic growth.
Under the topic of “delivering a better-prepared work force,” the report talks about the role of arts education to prepare our students to be successful in creative environments. It calls for not just more arts education, but clearly sees the arts as a vehicle for economic growth and global competitiveness.
As I wrote in a column two years ago, the more creativity and innovation moves toward the center of our educational debates, the better it is for music and arts education and, ultimately, our students.
Keeping the Promise – Arts Education for Every Child
The last report for discussion is “Keeping the Promise – Arts Education for Every Child: The Distance Traveled – The Journey Remaining” (on the web at: artsednj.org/census.asp) from the New Jersey Arts Education Census Project (where I served as project director). This report is based on a mandated survey of every public school in the state of New Jersey. This was a follow-up study to a 2006 report and provides the first state-level longitudinal data to compare changes to arts education over time.
Some key findings include:
- The number of New Jersey students with daily access to arts has increased by 54,000 since 2006, growing from 94 percent to 97 percent of all students.
- The percentage of New Jersey schools adopting core curricular standards in visual and performing arts has increased from 81 percent in 2006 to 97 percent in 2011.
- Well above 90 percent of all New Jersey schools use appropriately certified arts specialists as the primary provider for music and visual art instruction.
- More than 90 percent of New Jersey public schools interact with more than 972 community arts organizations to enhance visual and performing arts programs.
- While access to arts education has increased, spending on arts supplies and materials has declined by 30 percent at the elementary level and by 44 percent at the high school level.
- Student participation in arts courses as a percentage of total enrollment has declined significantly, especially at the elementary level.
A complex analysis revealed two new and important findings:
- High schools with more arts education tended to have a higher percentage of students who were highly proficient in language arts on the state high school test.
- Intended college attendance rates (four-year college) are higher in schools with more arts education.
These last two findings directly address important priorities for education leaders in New Jersey.
“We know that in order for students to truly be ready for the demands of the 21st century, we need
to provide a broad curriculum that includes the arts,” said acting education commissioner Chris Cerf. “I am encouraged to see that the number of students with access to the arts in school continues to increase, and we will continue our work to strengthen those programs.”
“The New Jersey Arts Education Census Project has once again demonstrated the importance of data in getting a full picture of the creative life of our schools,” said Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation CEO Chris Daggett. “Significant gains have been made in the past five years in regards to policy yet the declines in student participation in the arts raise serious questions about barriers that still remain. I look forward to further research that will help inform next steps to ensure more New Jersey students benefit from a robust arts curriculum.”
To know and not do… is to not know
Any one of these reports would bee seen as milestones in their own right. The fact that all for of these were released within six weeks of one another provides a treasure trove of new well-documented information for educators and advocates to use to make the case for the role of music and all of the arts in our schools.
But it will only make a difference if we all do something with the information. If we do not, then there is really no point in having it to begin with.
Indeed, to know and not do… is to not do. Our job is to take this information and…Do Something!
Robert B. Morrison is the founder of Quadrant Arts Education Research, an arts education research and intelligence organization. In addition to other related pursuits in the field of arts education advocacy, Mr. Morrison has helped create, found, and run Music for All, the VH1 Save The Music Foundation, and, along with Richard Dreyfuss and the late Michael Kaman, the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation.
He may be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.