The National Center for Education Statistics released a report earlier this month regarding the state of arts education and its availability during the 2009-2010 school year. Where relevant, it makes comparisons to a like report from ten years earlier.
The news was touted as good, I guess. Arts education was not significantly less in most cases than it was in the prior report ten years earlier. They say we still have lots of arts education, or do we?
Although the percent of schools offering arts education seems to be fairly constant, it depends what exactly it is hat is offered. That information does not include details such as frequency and diversity of offerings (there is some of this information and that is generally not good news).
The problems, in my humble opinion, are as follows: Lower socio-economic level schools have fewer arts education options. They do however, have designated rooms for the arts they don’t have in a higher percentage rate than high income school districts. In addition, the report states that dance and theatre instruction in elementary schools is threatened with extinction.
“Generally, what we really found is there is no consistent trend of decline in arts education in public schools,” said Jared Coopersmith, a project officer at the NCES. “However, we did find various instances of change.”
The good news is music education is the most available and the most popular. I am happy about that, but concerned because the visual arts, which include computer art and graphics, design and the like, should be increasing in educational offerings, not declining.
I read this report when it came out. It was publicized in a lot of places, twitter afire, proclaiming pretty much good news, although on further reading, there was a touch of skepticism and questioning about this good news by some accounts.
Several queries occur to me that we need to be asking as a community. We need to know what arts education actually encompasses. Is it offered once a week, once a month, or every day? Are there a variety of offerings or the basics? Does it offer rigorous content or a fluff approach? Are there assessments to demonstrate knowledge? Who is teaching the arts courses? Are they properly credentialed or just someone who played the clarinet in high school band and says I can do it? Is there a dedicated space for specific arts courses or do we all pile into the gym?
The saddest finding to me is the fact that at-risk or low socio-economic schools offer less in arts education. It is these children who would benefit the most from this facet of education. Their parents will not be providing extra-curricular opportunities for them, and have the least opportunity for exposure to the arts. I ask: “Is this the American way?”
People talk of course and they say they like the arts and that the arts are really important to their school. Truthfully, doing it is a much bigger undertaking. What will it take to transition to a more balanced, integrated education? What will the report in ten years say? I know what my dream is, what is yours?