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It has become a mantra in education that No Child Left Behind, with its pressure to raise test scores, has reduced classroom time devoted to the arts (and science, social studies, and everything else besides reading and math). Evidence supports this contention -- we'll get to the statistics in a minute -- but the reality is more complex. Arts education has been slipping for more than three decades, the result of tight budgets, an ever-growing list of state mandates that have crammed the classroom curriculum, and a public sense that the arts are lovely but not essential.
This erosion chipped away at the constituencies that might have defended the arts in the era of NCLB -- children who had no music and art classes in the 1970s and 1980s may not appreciate their value now. "We have a whole generation of teachers and parents who have not had the advantage of arts in their own education,'' says Sandra Ruppert, director of the Arts Education Partnership (AEP), a national coalition of arts, business, education, philanthropic, and government organizations.
The Connection Between Arts Education and Academic Achievement Yet against this backdrop, a new picture is emerging. Comprehensive, innovative arts initiatives are taking root in a growing number of school districts. Many of these models are based on new findings in brain research and cognitive development, and they embrace a variety of approaches: using the arts as a learning tool (for example, musical notes to teach fractions); incorporating arts into other core classes (writing and performing a play about, say, slavery); creating a school environment rich in arts and culture (Mozart in the hallways every day) and hands-on arts instruction.
Although most of these initiatives are in the early stages, some are beginning to rack up impressive results. This trend may send a message to schools focused maniacally, and perhaps counterproductively, on reading and math. "If they're worried about their test scores and want a way to get them higher, they need to give kids more arts, not less," says Tom Horne, Arizona's state superintendent of public instruction.
"There's lots of evidence that kids immersed in the arts do better on their academic tests." Education policies almost universally recognize the value of arts. Forty-seven states have arts-education mandates, forty-eight have arts-education standards, and forty have arts requirements for high school graduation, according to the 2007-08 AEP state policy database. The Goals 2000 Educate America Act, passed in 1994 to set the school-reform agenda of the Clinton and Bush administrations, declared art to be part of what all schools should teach.
NCLB, enacted in 2001, included art as one of the ten core academic subjects of public education, a designation that qualified arts programs for an assortment of federal grants. In a 2003 report, "The Complete Curriculum: Ensuring a Place for the Arts and Foreign Languages in American's Schools," a study group from the National Association of State Boards of Education noted that a substantial body of research highlights the benefits of arts in curriculum and called for stronger emphasis on the arts and foreign languages.
As chairman of the Education Commission of the States from 2004 to 2006, Mike Huckabee, then governor of Arkansas, launched an initiative designed, according to commission literature, to ensure every child has the opportunity to learn about, enjoy, and participate directly in the arts. Top-down mandates are one thing, of course, and implementation in the classroom is another. Whatever NCLB says about the arts, it measures achievement through math and language arts scores, not drawing proficiency or music skills.
It's no surprise, then, that many districts have zeroed in on the tests. A 2006 national survey by the Center on Education Policy, an independent advocacy organization in Washington, DC, found that in the five years after enactment of NCLB, 44 percent of districts had increased instruction time in elementary school English language arts and math while decreasing time spent on other subjects. A follow-up analysis, released in February 2008, showed that 16 percent of districts had reduced elementary school class time for music and art -- and had done so by an average of 35 percent, or fifty-seven minutes a week.
Some states report even bleaker numbers. In California, for example, participation in music courses dropped 46 percent from 1999-2000 through 2000-04, while total school enrollment grew nearly 6 percent, according to a study by the Music for All Foundation. The number of music teachers, meanwhile, declined 26.7 percent. In 2001, the California Board of Education set standards at each grade level for what students should know and be able to do in music, visual arts, theater, and dance, but a statewide study in 2006, by SRI International, found that 89 percent of K-12 schools failed to offer a standards-based course of study in all four disciplines.
Sixty-one percent of schools didn't even have a full-time arts specialist. Nor does support for the arts by top administrators necessarily translate into instruction for kids. For example, a 2005 report in Illinois found almost no opposition to arts education among principals and district superintendents, yet there were large disparities in school offerings around the state. Reviving Arts Education In many districts, the arts have suffered so long that it will take years, and massive investment, to turn things around.
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has made arts education a priority in his school reform plans, and the city has launched sweeping initiatives to connect more students with the city's vast cultural resources. Nearly every school now offers at least some arts instruction and cultural programming, yet in 2007-08, only 45 percent of elementary schools and 33 percent of middle schools provided education in all four required art forms, according to an analysis by the New York City Department of Education, and only 34 percent of high schools offered students the opportunity to exceed the minimum graduation requirement.
Yet some districts have made great strides toward not only revitalizing the arts but also using them to reinvent schools. The work takes leadership, innovation, broad partnerships, and a dogged insistence that the arts are central to what we want students to learn. In Dallas, for example, a coalition of arts advocates, philanthropists, educators, and business leaders have worked for years to get arts into all schools, and to get students out into the city's thriving arts community.
Today, for the first time in thirty years, every elementary student in the Dallas Independent School District receives forty-five minutes a week of art and music instruction. In a February 2007 op-ed piece in the Dallas Morning News, Gigi Antoni, president and CEO of Big Thought, the nonprofit partnership working with the district, the Wallace Foundation, and more than sixty local arts and cultural institutions, explained the rationale behind what was then called the Dallas Arts Learning Initiative: "DALI was created on one unabashedly idealistic, yet meticulously researched, premise -- that students flourish when creativity drives learning.
" The Minneapolis and Chicago communities, too, are forging partnerships with their vibrant arts and cultural resources to infuse the schools with rich comprehensive, sustainable programs -- not add-ons that come and go with this year's budget or administrator. In Arizona, Tom Horne, the state superintendant of public instruction, made it his goal to provide high-quality, comprehensive arts education to all K-12 students.
Horne, a classically trained pianist and founder of the Phoenix Baroque Ensemble, hasn't yet achieved his objective, but he has made progress: He pushed through higher standards for arts education, appointed an arts specialist in the state Department of Education, and steered $4 million in federal funds under NCLB to support arts integration in schools throughout the state. Some have restored art and music after a decade without them.
"When you think about the purposes of education, there are three," Horne says. "We're preparing kids for jobs. We're preparing them to be citizens. And we're teaching them to be human beings who can enjoy the deeper forms of beauty. The third is as important as the other two." Fran Smith is a contributing editor for Edutopia.
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November 30, 2016 Credit: Getty Images Part of the Vitality Arts Special Report The arts are many things to many people, but increasingly those who work in the arts, fund the arts, teach the arts and work in health care are seeking to harness the power of arts to help our society handle the so-called “silver tsunami.” What can the arts do? Excellent question. It’s one researchers, funders, entrepreneurs, government agencies and creative people all over the planet are grappling with.
One thing seems to be clear to all of them: More research is needed so we can truly understand how the arts can help people — from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds — age better. It’s the reason Julene Johnson launched her Community of Voices study on the effects of choir participation on health outcomes, whose results are due soon and which we’re following closely at Next Avenue.
It’s also the reason the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) is releasing a creative aging research toolkit called the NEA’s Guide to Community Engaged Research in the Arts and Health (which Johnson helped create) to encourage more research. Look for it on the NEA website on Thursday Dec. 8. We have a long way to go to make the case for the arts relationship to positive health and well being when it comes to rigorous research.
— Sunil Iyengar, National Endowment for the Arts A Real Need for Better Research Jane Chu “The idea was: Can we incentivize these people in the arts to team up with people from academia who have the research, methodology and experience to engage communities in this work,” says Sunil Iyengar, the NEA’s director of research and analysis. “There is a real need for better research, but it can’t just be purely from the academic research sector, and it can’t be purely from the arts sector, and there really has to be a hand-holding and a meeting of the minds.
” Iyengar describes the toolkit as an online guide to help organizations and researchers team up going forward and collaborate more effectively. Once it’s up and running, the NEA will release a report called the Health and Retirement Study, which Iyengar describes as “a large scale study, a longitudinal study of older adults,” looking at a wide range of questions related to arts and culture, including attitudes, participation and consumption.
Relationship Between Arts and Well-Being “We’ve done some analyses looking at the correlation between those who engage in the arts as older adults and those who have positive health and well-being outcomes and understanding what the relationship is between those two variables,” Iyengar says. “I hope it’ll help to set the stage for much more discussion about the necessity for understanding how the arts contribute to health and well-being.
” In the meantime, Next Avenue took time to chat with Iyengar about the arts, aging and research and NEA chairman Jane Chu’s assertion that, “The research will tell us what we already know.” Highlights: Next Avenue: Why is research into artful aging important? Sunil Iyengar: We all know that there’s a demographic shift in baby boomers and older adults. We’re having higher percentages of them in the population every day.
Advances in health care have made greater longevity possible, on average, for most people. With that comes understanding that people are subject to greater health care costs down the road. People in health and medicine are looking for preventive strategies so we’re not simply responding to diseases and conditions as they occur, but rather trying to prevent, or at least, delay them. Sunil Iyengar It’s important not only to understand how the arts can play a role in responding to specific kinds of health conditions but also to think about smart policies and funding apparatus to incentivize creativity and arts participation among older adults — and also younger adults ,too, as they age into these demographics.
The idea is that if people engage, and continue to be engaged, in artistic expression and a creative life, perhaps some of those benefits will adhere later in life. We’ve seen research that points to that happening. People, for example, who are musically trained early on and continue to stick with it throughout life seem to be less susceptible to auditory loss and have better memory retention. But we have a long way to go to make the case for the arts relationship to positive health and well-being when it comes to rigorous research, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
A long way to go? There have been some very promising smaller scale studies that have shown that the arts appear to delay or ameliorate adverse health effects in terms of motor skills or cognitive ability. The arts also seem to be correlated very strongly with positive reported health outcomes, such as having less periods of hospital stay. There are even some arguments to be made about engagement with the arts helping to offset health care costs for certain individuals over a period of time.
We need more rigorous long-term studies to understand, particularly, diverse populations, which has been a drawback in a lot of research in general. So there’s a need to build on past research, including the seminal work of Gene Cohen, who looked at the impact of tapping into creative potential to promote health with aging. Gene Cohen did a really important study [on that], funded by the NEA and the National Institutes of Health.
That study still carries a lot of weight. But there’s a need to replicate those findings on a larger scale. I have seen since then many smaller scale studies, not necessarily corroborating, but supporting the hypothesis. The place to go for a better synopsis is a report called The Arts in Aging: Building the Science. It was done by the National Institutes of Health and the NEA, in partnership with the National Academy of Sciences.
What is the most exciting creative aging research happening now? A lot of people are interested in music and neuroscience. That’s because music is one of the art forms where there’s been some of the most vital behavioral research. You have a better understanding than you do with some of the other art forms of how it affects the hard-wired part of our brains, our neurology and our motor skills.
What’s the most surprising fact about the arts and aging? I don’t know if it’s surprising, but one of the things that’s come up over and over again is when you look at health care outcomes of the arts — the contribution to positive health — a lot of it has to do with reducing symptoms of chronic health care conditions. The arts have been shown to be very effective in helping to almost distract people from their pain.
That’s something which the arts seem to be really good at dealing with compared to standard pharmaceutical or other approaches. Symptom management, in other words. By Heidi Raschke Heidi Raschke is a longtime journalist and editor who previously was the Executive Editor of Mpls-St. Paul Magazine and Living and Learning Editor at Next Avenue. Currently, she runs her own content strategy and development consultancy.
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Title: Why Arts Education Is Crucial