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July 17, 2017

Working to keep the Arts in Public Schools

In 2009, Detroit Public Schools (DPS) hit challenging times when deep budget cuts forced the district to end arts programs in many of its schools. Today, as many as half of the district’s schools have no full-time fine arts instructors, and many more have only one or two.

Eliminating arts programs to save money is hardly a novel practice. By the early 1990s, two-thirds of New York City’s elementary schools and half of American schools overall had no art or music teachers, a phenomenon due almost entirely to budget pressures. When budget cuts hit, as they have in over 80 percent of US school districts since 2008, arts programs are often the first to go simply because their impact is not measured by standardized tests.

In an effort to combat this negative trend, the Detroit Public School Board has been working hard to bring the arts back into their district. They have allocated funds to hire 15 more arts faculty members for the upcoming school year, each serving multiple schools. DPS’s new superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, has shown his commitment to restoring arts programs in public schools during his tenure at Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida, bringing back art, music, and physical education to all 102 of the district’s elementary schools.

The benefits of a quality arts education have been known for centuries. Benjamin Franklin described the arts as an essential component of what he believed to be the ideal education in 1749.  In the middle of the 19th century, the arts were included in nearly all American public schools, primarily as a way to teach crafts but also as a means of “[imparting] a taste, a knowledge, and a skill of universal creativity.” By 1900, the focus of elementary school arts education shifted away from industrial applications and toward art for its own sake. In 1923, W.G. Whitford wrote that an education in the arts, and by extension an education in general, is incomplete without training in producing and appreciating fine art.

A quality arts education is still critical today for learning the so-called 21st-Century Skills such as creativity, innovation, and, according to Harvard professor Jennifer Roberts, the useful ability to simply be patient enough to notice details that are not apparent at first glance. These types of skills are crucial for success in the modern workplace. No other subject can foster them in the way that the arts can.

Just because the benefits of arts programs are difficult to measure doesn’t mean that they are not a vital component of a well-rounded education. Although there are no standardized tests for music or drama, studies have shown that quality arts programs can actually improve language and math skills. Furthermore, evidence points to the role that arts programs play in boosting graduation rates and teachers’ morale.

If districts want to continue to provide these important programs for their students, it’s vital to ensure that their schools have adequate resources to keep art in their classrooms. Education Funding Partners can help protect the arts in your district by helping to provide sustainable revenue streams through digital advertising programs with national companies. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you fund essential arts education programs for your district.

Contributed by: John Nawrocki

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