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More Chicago Public Schools Have Arts, Survey Finds

More Chicago Public Schools students are spending more time in arts classes, according to a new survey of arts education programs released last week.

This is the second annual progress report released by Ingenuity, Inc., a nonprofit that advocates for and collects data about arts education in the nation's third largest school district. Chicago is one of a number of cities in which nonprofits, foundations, and policymakers are taking stock of arts education programs in recent years.

In Chicago, "we're seeing slow but encouraging and steady growth," said Paul Sznewajs, Ingenuity's executive director. "Despite a lot of things being in flux in Chicago Public Schools—budget challenges, other changes in the school system—a shining light beneath all that is the growth in the arts." (The district's challenges were in the spotlight today when Illinois' governor threatened to take over Chicago Public Schools.)

Ingenuity released a baseline report after the 2012-13 school year as part of an effort to track and expand arts programs. The school district created an Arts Education Plan in 2012 that laid out goals for things like how many minutes of instruction students should receive per week and a new student-to-arts teacher ratio.

Some of the report's findings:

  • Some 30,000 Chicago students had greater access to arts programs in 2014-15 than in 2013-14. 
  • In the 2014-15 school year, the average arts instructor-to-student ratio improved, from 1:312 in 2013-14 to 1:285.
  • The city had 3 percent more arts instructors in 2014-15 than in 2013-14
  • 58 percent of elementary schools that responded to the survey offered at least the recommended 120 minutes of arts per week, up from 47 percent the previous year.
  • More than 500 community organizations partnered to offer arts in Chicago schools. 

Ingenuity has also created what it calls the Creative Schools Certification. In each of the past two years, 571 schools participated in the certification process.

Sznewajs said the certification, which lays out the components of a quality arts program, can be particularly useful in a district like Chicago, which operates on a school-based management system in which principals can make decisions about their schools' programs. "It's a road map: This is what good looks like," he said.

Efforts to increase arts instruction time had been helped by the district's decision to add more minutes to the school day starting in the 2012-13 school year. A change in the school system's recommended student-to-teacher ratio, from 1 arts teacher for every 700 students to 1 for every 350 students, also helped.

"With the right kind of policies, combined with the right plans and infrastructure, combined with funding, it's really encouraged fairly significant growth in the arts," Sznewajs said. 

Sznewajs said that while there was a "void" in arts education programming in some of the city's poorer neighborhoods, the improvements over the past two years have been spread throughout the city. Ingenuity publishes a map of where arts programs are in Chicago schools. 


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