Stepping Up For Children Left Behind

In 2012, Grantmakers in the Arts will form the Arts Education Funders’ Coalition. The Coalition will consist of funders concerned with the inequities of our public education system and determined that their investments should not be undermined by federal policy that ignores those inequities. Simply put, arts education is not equitably offered to all American children. Although there are national and state standards and regulations, we have been unsuccessful in creating an educational system where arts education is delivered to every child, in every school, every day.

Education is one example of how America has become divided between the haves and have-nots and nowhere is that more evident than in the delivery of arts education in our public schools. Rich school districts have great programs including “glee-like” choruses, marching bands, theatre departments with productions of Shakespeare and August Wilson, orchestras in middle and high school. In some states, even dance is normal…take Maryland for example.

In his presentation for the Grantmakers in the Arts and Grantmakers for Education Thought Leader Forum in 2010, Nick Rabkin, Senior Research Scientist for NORC at the University of Chicago stated, “By 1980 about 65% of 18-year olds had them (arts education classes or lessons), an increase of 180%. But by 2008, fewer than half received any arts education.” The 2008 graph shows 55.6% of White 18-years old received some arts education while 28.1% of Black students and 26.2% of Hispanic students. Seems like more children “left behind” than not.

The Art Education Funders’ Coalition will work with an education policy firm in Washington DC to develop opportunities and policies that will enhance arts education at the federal level. We will involve our arts partners and bring non-arts allies to the table to begin new discussions. Why is GIA involving itself in federal policy, you might ask.  It’s because that’s where decisions are made in education in America.  Although we’d love to believe that education policies are determined locally, the reality is federal policy drives the actions made by state departments of education and local superintendents and school boards. Our obsession with testing to determine learning is evidence of this. Equity issues are best dealt with at the federal level where the governmental “carrot” is meant to level the playing field.

GIA’s Coalition will give funders a louder and bolder voice in an arena they have been supporting for decades. They have the advantage of stakeholders and investors. They are not beneficiaries of the policies we’re looking to change. It is time for arts funders to step up to seek solutions for the children we are leaving behind. The Coalition will launch in January 2012. The time is right for a new strategy and some new champions.

Speaking of champions, here’s mine.  Diane Ravitch! I will never write her name again without an exclamation point. If I were president, she would be secretary of education. Read her latest speech given at the National Opportunity to Learn Summit. It is a rallying call for all of us.