Arts Education is too Important to Put on the Back Burner

by Stephanie Sykes, age 17

Significant reductions in arts education funding is a sore point for many education officials. It is for me, too.

A recent survey shows that arts education is decreasing in American schools. More and more seemingly inevitable budget cuts make this a problem that will not go away soon.

And what a shame. Music and the arts are an integral part of learning. They should be valued far more in our schools. When faced with a smaller budget, the arts should not be the first things shoved out the schoolhouse door. Research proves these facts.

Now comes news of a troubling new study conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. The exam assessed student knowledge and experience of music and the arts. An evaluation of this type has not been conducted since 1997.

Overall, scores on the multiple-choice test were similar to the results in 1997. Students scored relatively well on music and arts sections.

These are warning signs! Students need time in school to explore the arts and develop skills in areas they enjoy. Music and arts programs foster creativity, relieve stress, and increase confidence. These are valuable skills and traits. They must be fostered at an early age to produce young people ready for the demands of our fast-paced world.

Cutting arts education is not a solution to our economic problems. All it accomplishes is producing students who are less cultured and less equipped to think critically in other core academic subject areas.

Another, even more startling, fact revealed in the survey was the difference in scores between minority or low-income children, and their white or Asian counterparts. Minority students scored about 30 points lower in both music and art. A similar gap in scores occurred in 1997.

In other words, no progress at all in the last 12 years.

This gap will certainly get even worse. As the economy worsens budget cuts are likely to reduce arts education even further.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan worries that the arts could be forced out of school curriculum completely. Of course this would be most detrimental to students who can’t afford private arts education.

If schools abandon art and music programs, less fortunate students will pay the price. This will only increase the wide achievement gaps we read so much about. The gaps we see in these studies will one day result in stark contrasts in quality of life. It will be a sad day in America if this comes to pass.

On the other hand, if we really want to end achievement gaps, we should pay attention to the evidence. Many studies have shown that students who participate in the arts, particularly music, do better in school.
Another part of the survey showed that only 16 percent of students have visited an art museum or gallery at least once in the past year with their class. This too is very troubling. Again, lower-income students are least likely to visit museums or see performances.

Ironically, Even the NAEP is feeling the effects of budget cuts. The report did not survey students in dance and theater because they did not have enough money to test students in these subjects.

Duncan says, “[kids] need the chance to develop their skills, develop their passions…when the curriculum gets narrowed and the arts get dropped, we do a huge disservice to students.”

I could not agree more. The arts are indispensable. They must be a core part of school curriculum. The NAEP’s survey is more evidence that removing arts education from our schools will damage learning and limit student performance. The bottom line is that students benefit from these classes too much for us to dispose of them.

[Sources: Wisconsin State Journal; Associated Press]