GUEST EDITORIAL: The ARTS IN EDUCATION
‘Good Schools Have the Arts’ — What We Want For All of Our Kids
“Not having arts education in the New York City public schools is like growing up in Bermuda and never learning how to swim”
— Laurie M Tisch
The other day, I was walking home from the train when I ran into a neighbor. She asked me what I did for a living. As I told her I worked for an organization seeking to ensure a quality education that includes the arts for all New York City public schools students, she was surprised to learn that there were students who didn’t receive much of an arts education. What is more, she was startled that something like the arts would be perceived as a luxury item in New York City, of all places.
The Center for Arts Education has not shied away from advocating forcefully as a direct way of pursuing its mission. It’s an honest manifestation of what we are about: CAE’s mission is dedicated to ensuring that all kids get the arts, not just some and not just more. It is the reason we’ve taken the somewhat unusual step of speaking out and challenging the current administration when we disagreed with their policies on arts education — an administration that is led by one of the very top arts patrons in the world, and one who had supported CAE with his own funds. When an organization counts on donations for its programs it does not take to challenging a modern day Medici without a very good reason — arts education for all students is our very good reason and our cause.
So, what do we want, exactly? What are we asking for that seems to be beyond the reach of the powers that be when it comes to arts and education in the New York City public schools?
We are seeking leadership that will end a crazy quilt school system where one school is arts rich and another, arts poor. We seek leadership that embraces the empowerment of school leaders while recognizing that there are limits to empowerment, and one of those limits is a failure to provide even the most minimal state requirements for arts instruction in every school for every student.
There are matters technical in nature and matters of leadership. It is not acceptable for four out of every 10 New York City middle schools to fail to ensure that all of their students receive the two semesters of the arts that are required by state law, or to have a quarter of all schools lacking even one full-time certified teacher of the arts. Nor is it acceptable to let school-based budgets drop dramatically for essential partnerships with the city’s cultural organizations, especially as these decreases began during a period of overall budget growth, prior to the economic downturn, and now are declining even further and faster as the state cuts its funding for public education.
It is not acceptable to have arts in schools depend, in part, on the fundraising efforts of parents.
And it is not acceptable to have an accountability system that gives schools with little arts a grade of A, sending a very wrong signal to school communities about what is important and what is not. Is it too much to ask in this day and age of “education reform” for all schools to provide the required curriculum?
What is more, we seek leadership that understands fully that subjects like the arts are overwhelmed by an accountability system built on test scores in reading and math, and that in order to buoy the arts, tools such as categorical funding are a necessity.
It is possible to change this — to stimulate and sustain arts programs for all students — but such change will require the type of leadership that makes it known that schools without the arts cannot be good schools, and what is more, will no longer be accepted. We have seen schools in poor neighborhoods build glorious arts programs, and so know that it is not only a matter of money, but also of priority, emphasis, and vision.
Today, there are big city school superintendents, like Michael Hinojosa in Dallas, who refuse to cut the arts, even in the midst of major budget cuts. New York City would do well to look at such game changing leadership and not be shy about stealing a very important page from his playbook so that the New York City will be both the arts capital of the world and the arts education capital of the world. #
Richard Kessler is the executive director of The Center for Arts Education.