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Arts Education Takes a Hit in the Accountability Movement

Considered a frill in the accountability movement, arts education is the victim of budget cuts that have reduced their presence in schools across the country ("Deterioration of public schools arts programs has been particularly jarring in L.A.," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 2).  Nowhere is this more apparent than in California.

Although California state law requires that schools provide music, art, theater, and dance at every grade level, few districts are in compliance.  The Los Angeles Unified School District is a case in point.  At its pinnacle in 2007, the district spent $32 million in arts education, and received an additional $46 million in grants from the state.  But that funding dwindled to $19 million during the recession, leaving schools on their own.  The situation improved slightly this year when new 45 teachers were hired after an infusion of $26.5 million for arts education.

What's so troubling is that for many students music, art, and theater are not a frill. They live for these subjects. Their primary interest and talent lie in these areas.  I had students who carried around their musical instruments and art work along with their textbooks.  Before class began, I used to ask them about their work in these fields.  They were proud to explain how they became engrossed and what their plans were for the future.  

I think we do a terrible disservice to them when we treat such subjects as stepchildren. I've always been in awe of anyone who has ability in music and art. To treat these subjects as unworthy of the same attention as English and math is indefensible. As Howard Gardner correctly explained, there are multiple intelligences.  Musical and bodily are two of them. But as long as they're not measured by standardized tests, I doubt the situation will improve.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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