THE CENTER FOR ARTS EDUCATION
The Arts: A Vital Part of Educating the Whole Child
New York City is the cultural capital of the world and as such, the arts play a critical role in how we define ourselves as a city and as a people. It would be difficult, if not impossible to imagine New York City without the arts.
The arts are inherent to all human beings. The arts are part of our DNA. Each child has the gift of the arts within them and should be provided with sustained pathways for learning in and through the arts all along the continuum of human development, especially from pre-kindergarten through the end of high school. Arts education is a right of our children, not a privilege.
Based on our own estimation and the expressed opinions of parents, teachers, school administrators, and others, CAE believes that we are witnessing the gathering of a perfect storm for our city’s public schools. A storm that is poised to damage access to arts education in ways not experienced since the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s.
What we are seeing today in the city’s public schools is a profound shift away from the arts and the other elements of a well-rounded education, including subjects such as history, foreign language, physical education—all content deemed expendable for test preparation. This is to the detriment of the city’s school children and ultimately to all New Yorkers.
Under the new system of accountability the School Progress Report drives the rewards and consequences for each and every principal. In the elementary and middle schools 85% of the Progress Report is based on standardized tests in reading and math. In high school, graduation rates and regents diplomas are a major factor. A principal may receive a bonus or risk losing their jobs based on the School Progress Report. For all practical purposes the arts are non-existent within the Progress Report.
Adding fuel to the fire, Project Arts, the only guaranteed budget line for the arts and the major factor behind the improvements in arts education over the past decade, has been eliminated. Many schools and arts educators depended on this funding to keep the arts alive in their classrooms.
Combine its elimination with what will be a nearly 10% cut to the schools budget including this and next year and a system where principals have no practical supervision and you begin to see the storm gathering. The arts have always been cut disproportionately during periods of budget reductions. History has taught us this all too well.
The gathering storm is also well understood within key, alarming statistics provided by the NYC DOE over the past year: 32% of parents surveyed by the NYC DOE indicate that their children receive zero arts education; only 29% of all middle school students are provided with the minimum state requirements; only 4% of all elementary schools surveyed are even in a position to provide the minimum state requirement by offering all four art forms in each grade; 20% of schools have no arts specialists whatsoever; the ratio of arts teachers to students is alarming, with one theater teacher to every 13,000 students.
Most of this data comes directly from the NYC DOE’s recent Arts in the Schools Report. Let us also consider that few principals are prepared to effectively administer arts education in their schools, having had little to no arts education in their training as teachers and little to no arts education in their training as principals.The positive correlation between arts offerings and graduation rates is compelling and warrants increased attention by school decision-makers, especially given the overall dismal graduation rates at many New York City high schools.
In the arts capital of the world, it is imperative that education officials and decision-makers work together to ensure that the requirements are being met and that all students are being provided a well-rounded education that includes the arts. These standards can be met and we must all be held accountable to ensuring this.#
This article is adapted from testimony delivered by Richard Kessler, Executive Director of The Center for Arts Education, on April 8, 2008 at an oversight hearing of the New York City Council on the state of arts education in New York City Public Schools.