School House Wonk

"Genius without education is like silver in the mine." Benjamin Franklin

Arts Education Alive and Well

Critics of No Child Left Behind often point to the demise of K-12 arts education as an unintended victim in the federal government’s ten-year effort to bring every child to grade level in reading and math. Detractors claim that NCLB has forced teachers to devote precious instructional time “teaching to the test,” leaving less time to arts education, recess, and other equally important endeavors.

According to Education Week’s Erik W. Robelen, the data suggest otherwise. Robelen reports on a new study from the National Center on Education Statistics (NECS) that crunched the numbers on art instruction over the past decade. The panel found the availability of arts instruction at the K-12 level has remained high and virtually unchanged over that time.

Yes, there were some ups and downs – time spent on dance and drama instruction declined, while incorporation of these genres into other venues increased. Overall the highest availability for arts instruction was in music (over 90 percent), while instruction in visual arts saw a slight decline, although still widely available. Observed the Commission:

It is gratifying that, even in times of narrowing curriculum and economic hardships over the last decade, schools still see a strong value in access to arts education and continue to prioritize making it available to their students.

Some worrisome disparities do exist in availability of arts instruction for high-poverty high schools compared to low-poverty high schools, less so for elementary schools.

My take: For years we’ve been warned K-12 arts instruction was on the verge of extinction because of the onerous testing requirements of NCLB. Same with recess, field trips and other less measurable but equally important learning experiences. Why is there such a disconnect between perception and reality? Was this a case of the occasional anecdote driving the narrative? Whatever the reason, I’m thrilled arts instruction remains a vibrant part of our K-12 system, as it should be.

Beth T. Sigall

April 12, 2012

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