The Arts - Persona Non Grata in Education

I am furious. Is it too much to ask the greatest nation on earth to encourage learning in the arts and make it accessible to every child throughout their K-12 public education, taught by arts specialists and respected by decision-makers as a means to a creative life, workforce and engaged learner? Here’s the string of events that started the firestorm in my head last week:

Narric Rome, Americans for the Arts, wrote: “We’ve just learned that Chairman Kline plans to introduce a bill tomorrow that would eliminate – not consolidate – the Arts In Education program at the U.S. Dept of Education.”

In his press release, Rep. Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, wrote: “In this time of economic uncertainty and trillion-dollar deficits, far too many taxpayer dollars are being wasted on inefficient, outdated or duplicative education programs. The Department of Education operates 79 separate programs tied to K-12 classrooms. Many of these programs have proven ineffective. In an effort to ensure taxpayer dollars are well spent, the House Education and the Workforce Committee will soon advance legislation that cuts the number in half by repealing wasteful education programs.”

Then Richard Kessler, executive director of the Center for Arts Education wrote: “According to virtually all the psychometricians I have talked with about this, including our researcher from NYU’s Center for Research on Teaching and Learning, Bob Tobias, the measures used for the reporting on research, which is called GPRA, from the Government Performance and Results Act, will show either no or marginal changes to ELA and math scores as a result of the USDOE arts education programs. So, if anyone is wondering why a member of Congress or the Senate might get the impression a program like AEMDD or PDAE is ineffective, it is due to a large degree on how the USDOE structures the research and what is reported.”

In other words, after decades of funding and publishing study after study that shows the positive results of arts education, Congressmen are labeling arts programs as “ineffective.” Why? BECAUSE THEY ONLY GET THE SCORES IN ENGLISH AND MATH. USDOE should do better than this. Dear Mr. Duncan….

Have these people making decisions about how our children are educated never heard of Howard Gardner, studies on how the brain works and why kids drop out of school in the first place? (For the most part, they are bored, disengaged and feel that sitting in a classroom is a waste of their time.) This is just the tip of the iceberg of our arguments but for cripes sake, I am so frustrated that we’re still “persona non grata” in the education policy world.

This is my call to action. Every time we send an email to a congressman, legislator, school board member, superintendent or principal asking for support of something or another, we should include a PDF (or several) of arts education research from the past 40 years. This is like sending a virtual library. I have images of stacks and stacks of reports, books and proven research clogging political offices around the country. We don’t just talk about the importance of arts in the education of American children, we send research to back it up.