Want To Do Better in School? Try Listening to Mozart or Studying Monet
After years of hard times, the arts are making a gradual comeback in inner cities and suburban schools alike - although private groups are often footing the bill
When school funding took a dive in the late 1980s and early '90s, arts-education supporters were thrown on the defensive. Their challenge: Prove why the arts are a vital part of core curriculum in schools.Skip to next paragraph
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It may have seemed a tall task amid pressure for higher teacher salaries, more computer equipment, and a stronger commitment to math and science education to keep American students internationally competitive.
But today, their efforts are yielding fruit. The level of funding is still tenuous, and many communities are having to turn to fund-raisers and donated time to continue arts programs once boosted by state and federal funds. But arts supporters and educators say they are cautiously hopeful for a future more supportive of arts education.
"We have so much work to do, but there is really a lot of momentum," sums up Sara Goldhawk, an associate with Goals 2000: Arts Education Partnership, a group of agencies that helps support federal Goals 2000 projects.
That momentum can best be described as arts-minded groups rallying together to support well-rounded arts curricula and highlight the arts' role in student achievement - far beyond how fingerpainting teaches motor skills.
"The evidence is there that the arts are a great contributor to the overall learning capabilities of the student," says Joe Giles, director of arts education for the Tennessee state education department and founder of the Tennessee Arts Academy in Nashville. He credits the arts with providing children with skills such as problem solving, the ability to make decisions where there may not be standard answers, and self-expression.
"We believe that's why the arts are important for all students," he says. "We're not trying to make everyone an artist."
What advocates are doing is marshaling arguments that students who train in the arts, whether they are future Picassos or not, improve in many other areas of study.
Students who studied the arts for four or more years scored 59 points higher on verbal and 44 points higher on math portions of the SAT than students with no coursework or experience in the arts, according to profiles received in 1995 by The College Board, and compiled by Music Educators National Conference (MENC).
In Ohio, elementary students in the "Spectra+" arts program made greater gains in total reading, reading vocabulary, and reading comprehension compared with a control group. The students also scored better in math comprehension. Likewise, in New Jersey, vocabulary and reading comprehension improved among elementary-school children in the "Arts Alternatives" program, according to Goals 2000.
According to a study done by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), there is a direct correlation between early arts education and participation in the arts later as adults, suggesting that the future well-being of the arts depends on arts education.
College students' spatial scores on IQ tests improved significantly when they listened to Mozart's Piano Sonata in D for 10 minutes, according to a study by Frances Rauscher and Gordon Shaw at the University of California, Irvine.
"People's awareness of the value of arts education is improving rapidly," notes Valsin Marmillion, chair of the Advocacy Task Force for Goals 2000 and a representative of the Getty Education Institute for the Arts in Los Angeles.
In many ways, there is nowhere to go but up for arts programs. In 1962, 69.5 percent of the nation's high schools offered orchestra. In 1989, only 32 percent did, according to the MENC. And such stalwarts as the NEA have seen their funding decimated: Its budget was recently cut by 40 percent, causing a parallel cut in its funding of arts-education programs.
Many observers have questioned the relevance of the arts to a basic education. In 1990, President Bush announced a set of six voluntary education goals. Arts were not listed among the core academic subjects. But when the goals were revamped in 1993 under President Clinton to become the "Goals 2000: Educate America Act," the arts were included.
"It created for the first time a policy framework that embraced the arts," says Doug Herber, director of the Arts in Education Program of the National Endowment of the Arts. (The Goals 2000: Educate America Act provides resources to states and local school districts to develop and implement plans to improve student learning.)