Sunday, October 6, 2019

Arts Ed Needs Help

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on........................."

An article last month in Hyperallergic had an attention grabbing headline:

     "New Jersey is First in the US to Provide Arts Education For All Students"

"The state has reached the benchmark for “universal arts education access”, meaning each one of its public schools provides some type of school-based arts instruction during the school day for all students. As of now, over a million students in the state are actively participating in classes in visual and performing arts, according to an announcement by New Jersy’s Governor Phil Murphy on Monday, August 9."

Now there was something to celebrate.  That's exactly what we want.  But if you read the entire article, the news was good, but conditional.  And a little confusing.

"While access is universally available, not all students in New Jersey are enrolled in art instruction programs. As of 2018, 81% of all students in the state participated in arts education (a 25% increase in student participation since 2006), but 102,000 students in all grades remain outside arts instruction programs, according to the report. The report suggests that these students belong to “less affluent schools,” pointing to a problem of economic inequity. Furthermore, only 11% of students have access to all four arts disciplines required by state code (dance, music, theatre, and visual art)."

Are the students who remain outside arts instruction programs not participating because the schools don't offer the programs?  Or are they outside the programs for some other reason.  If each one of the New Jersey public school provide some type of school based arts instruction during the school day for all students, why are a hundred thousand students not enrolled in them?    One hopes the reason has to do with catching up to the programs being rolled out, but the inference is that poor schools in less affluent districts are the ones on the outside.  And that's no different than the way things have been across the country for decades.  81% participation is actually fantastic, but not for the other 19% on the outside looking in.  And therein lies the problem.

The typical model for funding education in America starts at the local level and is based either on property taxes or school bonds.  The money is augmented at  both the state and federal levels, and in some cases general fund pools are also part of the mix.  So wealthy areas have bigger budgets, more options and are the ones most likely to include arts education.  Even though the arts are included as a "core" subject along with math and science and the like, and in some areas actually mandated for inclusion, if a district or school doesn't have the money, it doesn't include the arts.  We are very use to being last in, first out.  That is nothing new.

The article, for example, also notes that only 11% of the New Jersey students have access to all four arts disciplines required by the state code (dance, music, theater and visual art).  And that is most assuredly because of the lack of funding.   And why, if the arts are one of the required core subjects, aren't the arts allocated the same budget lines as other core subjects?  But that's a whole other issue.

There are an estimated 100,000 K-12 schools in the United States, and the average teacher salary is about $40,000 (and both of these numbers are slightly conservative).  So if you want one full time arts teacher in every school (and its likely you would need at least one to offer arts to every student sometime during the day), the total cost for America would be 4 billion dollars a year.  If you want to have a teacher for each of the four disciplines, then you are talking about sixteen billion dollars - a year.  I suppose you might be able to have a teacher for each discipline be responsible for more than one school, as a sort of circuit rider teacher, but that isn't likely to save you more than half the total.  So arts education as we really want it, is virtually unaffordable - certainly beyond the reach of many districts and way beyond the deepest philanthropic pockets.

And yet, sixteen billion dollars a year is probably just a half dozen new fighter planes or other new technical weapons or programs. Alas, if human beings were only evolutionarily capable of solving their disagreements and disputes by ways other than with potential violence, we could afford a lot of things.  But that unrealistic pie in the sky thinking doesn't help us.   And the federal government is a long way from being willing to subsidize the cost for four arts teachers in every school.

Bottom line, if New Jersey has figured out how to offer 81% of their students access to arts instruction on a daily basis, then kudos and applause to them.  Would that be the stat for the entire country, we would be in a much better position.

The problem is that the offering all across the country is premised on the wealth of schools or school districts and there is a fundamental, inherent inequity to that reality.  And in all likelihood it is kids of color who, more often than otherwise, are the kids in the poorer districts and locked out of access to the arts, and that, if true,  is, on its face, systemically racist.

And at the heart of the issue, is the funding model where education funding comes from property taxes or school bonds voted locally, for those two funding streams systemically favor the wealthy white areas of the country.  I don't know how you change that model, but I do know that if you were to try, you would meet a lot of opposition.

In the meantime, it might be helpful if we in the arts focused and concentrated our efforts in a laser approach on those districts that are not able to provide arts education access.  That too, I suspect, would be met with opposition, but we still ought to do it.  If we want to address inequity, we need to include arts education.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit