When administrators take time away from artistic expression, whether it is through visual, musical, theatrical or other art forms, it is taking away opportunity for the very success for which they are striving.
America’s rapidly changing economy necessitates an education system that produces young adults with the skills needed to be successful in higher education and the skills to compete for the jobs of the twenty-first century. Student performance is not just an education issue; it’s an economic issue, a civic issue, a social issue, and a national security issue. Recognizing the need for change, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) on January 8, 2002, changing education as it was known (U.S. Department of Education, 2002/2006).
The goal of the NCLBA is to drive the academic achievement of today’s students higher than it has been before by two key elements: holding schools accountable for the improvement of academic success and closing the “achievement gap” (U.S. Department of Education, 2002).
Accountability is increased by requiring schools to produce, “annual state and school district report cards that inform parents and communities about state and school progress” (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). Schools that do.not succeed in making progress must make available supplemental services either during the school day or after school, take corrective actions, and, ” .. .if still not making adequate yearly progress after five years, make dramatic changes to the way the school is run” (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). Improvements are recorded and tracked through state and national standardized testing.
Simultaneously, schools are challenged to close the “achievement gap,” by helping “all students, including those who are disadvantaged, achieve academic proficiency” (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). This puts a high level of demand on the schools to ensure their students are getting the education necessary so improvement can be shown.
The daunting task of implementing the NCLBA was left to the educators. Still, many educators were distressed because this was an overwhelming and seemingly impossible task. Some attempted to justify the impossibility of this task based on the following reasons: lack of teachers’ abilities and experience, lack parental involvement, and the socioeconomic status of the school and the families attending the school (being on the low end of the achievement gap). Teachers and administrators thought that a reasonable action to take would be to reduce the amount of time spent on subjects that are not assessed directly on the achievement tests. In 2003, the Council for Basic Education (CBE) conducted a study and stated that, “Twenty-five percent of principals reported decreases in the time their schools devote to the arts and thirty-three percent expect decreases in the next two years as a result of the NCLBA” (American Arts Alliance, 2005). Their expectations were that more time spent on reading, writing and math, would result in higher scores in these subjects. However, evidence from testing reflected otherwise.
The Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT): Reasoning Test is a standardized test that most American juniors-and. seniors- take when considering further education through a university or college. It gauges the critical thinking skills one needs for academic success in college (College Board, n.d.). According to the College Entrance Examination Board (2005), SAT takers with coursework in music appreciation scored sixty points higher on the verbal portion of the test and thirty-nine points higher on the math portion of the test, compared to student with no coursework or experience in the arts. In addition, students who participated more than four years in any arts coursework had a success of forty-nine points higher on the verbal section of the test compared to students with as little as one half year coursework. In the math section, students involved four or more years compared to those with half of a year of study had a thirty-eight point difference. The idea behind reducing the time spent on arts activities seemed logical, but research proves it to be a step in the wrong direction.
What does this mean? When administrators take time away from artistic expression, whether it is through visual, musical, theatrical or other art forms, it is taking away opportunity for the very success for which they are striving.
The arts can help teachers teach in many ways. Teachers have determined that students who receive high levels of training in arts are more cooperative and more open to articulate what they have learned, compared to students with a low amount of arts education. “High-arts” students are able to express their ideas more coherently, use their imaginations and take learning risks. High-arts students also have a better relationship with their educators and, “Educators in arts-rich schools demonstrated more interest in their work and were more likely to become involved in professional development experiences. They were also more likely to be innovative in their teaching” (Burton, Horowitz, Abeles, 1999, p. 38-41). Students involved in arts help the teacher teach, and that allows the teacher to actually accomplish more throughout the school day.
When addressing parental involvement, the best way to get parents involved in their child’s education is through art. Statistics show parents of students involved in art activities are more active in their child’s school. From the report of the National Center for Education Statistics, the following has been determined about parental involvement in public secondary school art programs:
Seventy-six percent indicate moderate to great extent of parental attendance at school arts events. Fifty-four percent indicate moderate to great extent of parental sponsorship of Booster Clubs. Fifty-two percent indicate moderate to great extent of parental sponsorship of fundraising activities for the arts. Twenty-eight percent indicate moderate to great extent of parental sponsorship of art exhibitions or visiting performers. Thirty- two percent indicate moderate to great extent of parental volunteering in arts programs. (1994)
Schools that do not have an arts program for parents to be involved in are missing out on an opportunity to have increased parental activity in their school.
Economic factors of each school could weigh heavily on the overall ability of the school to provide the best education, and in turn the best test scores. Most believe that lower socioeconomic schools are at a strict disadvantage when it comes to providing the best for their students. A study by the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) on schools with large numbers of students living in poverty says that schools can be transformed from frustration and failure, for both the teachers and the students, to joyful, successful places of peaceful education when the arts are integrated into not only their curriculum, but their school culture (American Arts Allegiance, 2005). A more joyful atmosphere is sure to boost the morale of children who do not have much to look forward to, both during school and at home, making them more successful in general.
NCLBA is concerned about “closing the achievement gap” and arts can help. In the AEP publication, Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning (1999), a group of studies compiled on the effect of arts in education, determined, “Learning in and through the arts can help ‘level the playing field’ for youngsters from disadvantaged circumstances.” In fact, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds reaped the largest reward from art education (Burton, Horowitz, Abeles, 1999). Another study done by the AEP through their publication, Critical Links (2002), uses sixty-two research studies on academics, that when compiled together, show that arts education does in fact help to close the achievement gap, improves academic skills essential for reading and language development, and advances students’ motivation to learn. Los Angeles Theater of Hearts arranged a theater curriculum for at-risk students that strengthened art skills to raise self worth, and promoted positive life dreams and goals through storytelling. They reached out to two hundred and eighty-nine young students at seven different locations. One school reported an increase of grades by ten percent, an increase of eighty percent in attendance, and a one hundred percent increase in teamwork. Another school documented an eighty percent improvement of grades, while yet another disclosed that team building skills improved ninety percent with at-risk youth” (California Arts Council, n.d.).
Many schools administering to youth labeled “at-risk” claim to have a problem with attendance, directly affecting grades and test scores. In Pittsburgh, an independent study compiled drop-out rates and graduation rates from around the city’s schools. The highest graduation rate was at a high school for the creative and performing arts. There, they graduate eighty-five percent with a fifteen percent drop out rate, much higher than the city’s average of sixty-four percent of high. school seniors that graduate after five years of high school (Engberg, Gill, 2006).
Although lacking in funds and support like many well-off schools, research proves over and over again how imperative it is that lower socioeconomic schools find the means necessary to implement arts throughout the curriculum. It does not take additional funds to act out a story instead of just reading it, choreograph a dance to practice counting, or write a script to a play recounting an historical event; and even with minimal assistance of donations and grants, schools can acquire the simplest art supplies or musical instruments. Tambourines, maracas, rhythm sticks, etc. are not expensive but can make a dramatic impact on learning. Researchers found that, ‘’the arts provided a reason, and sometimes the only reason, for being engaged with school or other organizations” (California Arts Council, n.d.).
The importance of standardized testing will not go away, so educators need to do all they can to not allow the pressures and expectations to take the joy out of teaching. Students also need to feel successful whether or not they perform well on the standardized tests. That is yet another benefit of art. Students involved in arts programs are four times more likely to attract school wide attention for their academic success, three times more likely to be elected to a class office, three times more likely to earn. a school attendance award, and four times more likely to write an award winning essay or poem (Heath, Seop, and Roach, 1998). Despite how successful they are on standardized tests, they are successful every day as a result of their participation in the arts.
Though too little time has passed since the commencement of the NCLBA to determine its actual level of success, one thing is urgently clear: implementing the arts in any and all possible ways helps children learn. That is the ultimate goal of any school system. Teachers can teach better, parents are more involved, and at-risk students become managers of risk rather than seeing themselves as “at-risk.” Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, chair of the Education Commission of the States says, “In the true spirit of No Child Left Behind, leaving the arts out is beyond neglect and is virtual abuse of a child. It is certainly inexcusable” (American Arts Alliance, 2005).
Author: Jennifer R. Hebert
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