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Teacher Survey Highlights Cuts to the Arts, Foreign Languages

A new teacher survey offers a window into how schools are applying budget cuts they've experienced over the past year, from teacher layoffs to the impact on a few areas of the curriculum, including the arts and foreign languages.

Here are findings specifically touching on the curriculum, with the proportion of all teachers reporting the "reduction or elimination" of these programs:

• Arts or music: 22 percent;
• Foreign languages: 15 percent;
• Physical education: 11 percent.

Teachers were not asked specifically about the budget impact in any other content area. The data come from the 28th annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher. In all, 1,001 teachers were surveyed by telephone last fall.

I will say that, with 72 percent of all teachers reporting cuts to their school's budget, the reductions in the arts were not especially high, given that most people seem to agree that in tight fiscal times, the arts are the first to go.

As for foreign languages, the cuts are more widespread if you look specifically at the secondary level, where such programs predominate. Overall, 22 percent of middle school teachers and 25 percent of high school teachers reported the reduction or elimination of language programs.

Meanwhile, about one-third of teachers said educational technology and learning materials are not being kept up to date at their school to "meet student learning needs." And 27 percent said their school had cut or eliminated after-school programs.

Although I'm focusing here on the budget impact, my analysis excludes some important findings, reported by my colleague Liana Heitin, about an apparent decline in teacher morale. The last time it's been as low in the MetLife survey, she explains, was in 1989. (The MetLife Foundation provides funding to Education Week's Teacher channel to support its capacity to engage teachers interactively in a professional community.)

The most widespread cuts were reported for personnel. Overall, 41 percent of teachers say their school has experienced layoffs of classroom teachers over the past year, and 57 percent reported layoffs of other school staff. In a related statistic, 60 percent of teachers said average class sizes have grown in their schools.

And here's a curious one. Teachers were about evenly divided over whether opportunities for professional development have gone up or down: 27 percent say they have decreased, 25 percent say they have increased. One wild guess is that federal Race to the Top money has helped some states ramp up such opportunities, especially as schools gear up for the common standards in mathematics and English/language arts.

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