Lifting Graduation Rates by Closing
the Arts Education Gap
By Richard Kessler, Execuitve Director, The Center For Arts Education
It is widely known that New York City graduation rates, like those in many other areas, hover at a disappointing 50 percent, and that students from poor families are less likely to graduate than more advantaged peers. What is less well known, but equally alarming, is that students from poor families are also the least likely to have learning opportunities in art, music, theatre and dance.
Fortunately, President Barack Obama has pledged to devote resources to lift high school graduation rates across the country as well as to reinvest in arts education. “To remain competitive in the global economy,” Obama has said, “America needs to reinvigorate the kind of creativity and innovation that has made this country great.” And national studies show that the arts not only motivate kids to learn more: they also keep at-risk youth in schools and graduating on time.
Unfortunately, data provided by the City Department of Education shows that schools with the most low-income students offer the least arts education. Of over one thousand city public schools analyzed in 2006-2007, the higher the percentage of low-income students at a school, the less likely it is to have an arts teacher, and the less likely it is to have students visiting a museum or gallery, contributing work to an art exhibition, attending or participating in a dance, theater or concert performance.
Above the elementary school level, schools with the most low-income students were also least likely to offer students the option of completing a multi-year sequence of courses in the arts.
Schools that would be considered most “arts friendly” also had the highest on-time graduation rates—making a compelling case for the power of the arts to keep students in school. We believe that national research would provide similar findings.
If we are serious about remaining competitive in the global economy, we have to take major steps to improve graduation rates and close the arts education gap. We should think more earnestly about what is being offered at school, and not only what is being tested.
Here in New York, as a first step to making sure that every child in every school receives a quality arts education, the Center for Arts Education believes that the Mayor and Chancellor should hold principals accountable for spending money targeted for arts education on arts education. Currently, money allocated to schools for arts education has no strings attached—principals can spend this money on almost anything. Can we close the arts education gap and help more kids graduate on time? Yes we can.#