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Trust#149; But Verify!

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After three years of work, we finally finished our major project conducting an arts education census of every public school for the state of New Jersey. It was a long, complicated process involving two agencies of state government, dozens of organizations, hundreds of people and thousands of schools. The results create the most comprehensive look at arts education on a broad scale that has ever been conducted in this country.

I will share with you the key highlights, findings, recommendations, and the significant lessons for the all of us.

First, the facts:
On September 18, 2007, New Jersey Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells and Commissioner of Education Lucille E. Davy, along with the project partners for the New Jersey Arts Education Census Project, participated in the release of the report, WITHIN OUR POWER: The Progress, Plight and Promise of Arts Education for Every Child, via Web cast and before a live studio audience at New Jersey Network Studios in Trenton. The Report includes the highlights, findings, and recommendations from the New Jersey Arts Education Census Project and is the result of collaboration between the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, the New Jersey Department of Education, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, and Music for All, with additional support provided by NAMM – International Music Products Association, the D’Addario Foundation for the Performing Arts, and David Bryan of Bon Jovi, who is a project supporter and was on hand to perform. This project was inspired by the Mapping Project, which was carried out by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey from 1996-98.

The New Jersey Arts Education Census Project is one of the most comprehensive reviews of arts education ever conducted on a statewide basis, with more than 98 percent of all New Jersey public schools participating. By combining the findings of a statewide mandated survey of arts education offerings in every school with other information, the Project creates a 360-degree view of the status of arts education in New Jersey.

“These findings have given us a realistic picture of the state of arts education in our schools,” said Secretary Wells. “We now have the information we need to clearly identify where our existing resources can be best focused to strengthen student access to arts education and make sure that all New Jersey students get the complete education they deserve.” The findings and recommendations presented at the event are part of the long-term plan to broadly disseminate the Project’s discoveries and to centralize, maintain, and distribute arts education information across the state through the newly formed New Jersey Arts Education Partnership.

This project marks the first time that the Department of Education has collected information about the implementation of the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards for visual and performing arts, and it is evidence of the high value the Department places on a complete education.

“Arts education is essential to providing a well rounded, 21st century education for all students,” said Commissioner Davy. “The arts provide another way for us to communicate ideas, express our creativity, and appreciate the realities and the beauty of life through the senses and skills of the artist. The Department of Education remains committed to the arts and the many diverse lessons they teach all of us.”

WITHIN OUR POWER reports that New Jersey has made great strides in achieving equal access to arts education for all students in the state but there is still much work to be done. The report contains extensive findings and recommendations for five major areas including policies, students, teachers, resources and the community. The full report, summary and individual school and district arts index scores are available at www.artsednj.org. Some of the key findings and recommendations are listed below. The discoveries revealed in WITHIN OUR POWER confirm and disprove some widely held assumptions. For one, the report asserts that, “school size, along with professional and personal influence of educators and parents not socioeconomic factors impacts the level of arts in the schools.”

Selected report highlights:

Key Findings

  • While 94 percent of our students have access to some arts education in their schools, the majority of New Jersey public schools fail to offer instruction in all four arts disciplines as required (Dance, Music, Theater, and Visual Art).
  • As noted, school size, along with professional and personal influence of educators and parents not socioeconomic factors impacts the level of arts in the schools.
  • More than 75,000 students attend schools every day with no access to arts education.
  • While 81 percent of schools have updated curricula to reflect the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards in the Visual and Performing Arts 19 percent of schools have not.
  • 95 percent of all schools use appropriately certified arts specialists as the primary provider for music and visual arts instruction. But in theater instruction, no more than 59 percent of schools in any grade use appropriately certified arts specialists. In dance the percentage falls to 44 percent.
  • Per-pupil arts spending (spending on materials and supplies) is a key factor in determining the level of visual and performing arts.
  • Nearly 42 percent of the total spending on elementary arts education came from outside sources.
  • Nearly 90 percent of New Jersey Public Schools interact with more than 1,000 community arts organizations to enhance visual and performing arts in the schools.

Key Recommendations Include:

  • That school administrators ensure students have access to all four arts disciplines as part of a basic education as required by state code.
  • That the New Jersey State Board of Education build upon the strong policies in place supporting the visual and performing arts and implement an accountability process to publicly report on the implementation of these policies.
  • That the New Jersey State Department of Education, with the Census Project Partners, commence a review of schools where no arts instruction is available, so information, policies and resources may be aligned to support the restoration of arts education in these schools.
  • That the New Jersey State Department of Education work with the appropriate professional organizations to increase professional development for school and district administrators regarding the importance of the visual and performing arts.
  • That school districts review their curricular support allocations for the visual and performing arts and identify ways to increase funding.
  • That school districts allocate a minimum of 5 percent of the total school budget to support visual and performing arts instruction.
  • Increased funding for the New Jersey Department of Education and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts to support arts education initiatives.

Why is this important?

  1. If we want the arts for all children we have to know who has access and who does not. We need to understand the status and condition of arts education for all of our students and then work to improve the overall environment so that every child truly does have the opportunity to experience the many benefits that music and arts education provides. And that means we have to count to know who has access and who does not.
  2. Policies, by themselves, do not make any difference. This is true#149; unless there is accountability to support them the best policies are really not worth the paper they are written on. Many of you old enough may remember when President Ronald Reagan was negotiating a disarmament agreement with the former Soviet Union he stated, “Trust#149; but verify.”
    The same is true for music and arts education. We must put our faith in state level policies that advance the arts. In doing so we must demand there is a way to verify how these policies are ultimately being implemented at the school level.
  3. Economics is not a factor#149; the will of the people is. In the end, doesn’t it always come down to leadership? People with the courage and conviction to do the right thing? The same is true for arts education. In our study we found some of the best programs in some of our poorest communities and some of our weakest programs in some of our wealthier areas. The socioeconomic condition of a community has little bearing on whether or not music and the arts are available. It is the will of the leaders and the citizens. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

What happens now?

In New Jersey, a new organization, the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership has been established and has made the recommendations from this report their own strategic plan. As a friend of mine said, “What better way to implement these recommendations than to make it someone’s #149;to do’ list?”

More importantly, this saying shared with us by Ross Danis of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation really sums it up: “To know, and not do, is to not know.”

From all we have learned#149; it is time to see how much we, as a state and a nation, know.

The complete list of findings and recommendations may be found in the report WITHIN OUR POWER: The Progress, Plight and Promise of Arts Education for Every Child as well as a Web cast of the press conference, which may be downloaded and viewed at www.artsednj.org.

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