Rethinking and Strengthening Arts Education

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Arts in Education Week

September 12th to 18th is Arts in Education Week. The Congressional designation of Arts in Education Week is an important reminder of the essential role that the arts play in the well-rounded education that all American students deserve.

“The arts can no longer be treated as a frill,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in his remarks before the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) this past April. In the Secretary’s Listening and Learning Tour in 2009, he heard from teachers and parents that the curriculum has narrowed, especially in schools with disproportionate numbers of disadvantaged students. This led Secretary Duncan to tell his AEP audience of arts, education, government and philanthropic leaders that it is “the time to rethink and strengthen arts education.”

Arts in Education Week

Rethinking it begins with acknowledging the powerful role that regular academic experiences in the arts has for students, particularly economically disadvantaged students, in ways that transcend their accomplishments in the art studio or concert hall. A recent analysis [PDF, 158K] of data from the National Educational Longitudinal Survey (NELS:88) conducted by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles points to significant connections between high involvement in arts learning and general academic achievement. The study tracked students from eighth grade through their twenties and found that “arts-engaged” students from low-income families demonstrated greater college-ongoing rates and better grades in college. As an example, low-income students from arts-rich high schools were more than twice as likely to earn a B.A. as low-income students from arts-poor high schools.

Arts in Education Week

Moreover, the UCLA researchers found the students engaged in the arts were more likely to be employed in jobs with potential career growth and more involved in volunteerism and the political life of their communities. “These are big effects … [that] we would like to see more schools replicate,” says Secretary Duncan.

But we must strengthen the arts in all schools, not only to replicate the advantages in life and careers that the arts provide, but principally for the knowledge and skills that the arts uniquely embody as academic disciplines and that they impart on developing minds, bodies, and personalities. At the heart of a solid education in the arts are the appreciation of beauty and the aesthetic qualities of our lives and society; the ability to communicate the ineffable through images, music and movement; and the appreciation of diverse cultural expressions.

Arts in Education Week

In celebration of Arts in Education Week, the Arts Education Partnership is offering up-to-date information on actions that it and hundreds of schools, associations, and others are doing to heighten awareness of the importance of arts education. Our schools need to rethink and strengthen arts education. All our children need and deserve nothing less.

What is your school or district doing to rethink and/or strengthen arts education? Please share your comments below.

Doug Herbert
Office of Innovation and Improvement