Ever since the "No Child Left Behind" Act (NCLB) was signed into law, education became a hotbed of debate (ED.gov., n.d.). This can be attested by the general outpouring of articles that defend NCLB, the public protests against the act’s weakness, the measuring of the effects the act has had on academic achievement, and/or the criticism of its inability to meet the educational needs of this nation. This has led to additional educational reform that keeps reform in the forefront of educational debate.
It is ironic that in the process of the debate, the original good intention of the educational law is lost. As attention is placed on the law’s inadequacy and the need for educational reform, the education of children and adolescents is diminished. Ironically, children are left behind; the educational excellence that is held in esteem eludes the nation as policy makers and educators fight about how best to educate the child. Nowhere is this more felt than in arts education.
The way the laws are written, there is room for the arts to remain lost in the shuffle as states and their schools districts fight for educational funding and recognition for academic excellence in meeting standards. When considering the structure and disbursement of Federal funding to arts education, Federal laws do not require states to include arts education, it only supports arts education by providing some funding. Next, the states that voluntarily include arts education the school curriculum most often make their school districts responsible for implementing their arts programming.
This leads to educational inconsistencies in arts instruction because everyone does not agree that arts education is essential, even though Federal law claims it supports the arts. People are people, and when the people who make decisions for a school district are biased in their opinions about the worth of the arts, funding is not provided and/or programming is cut. When school districts are ignorant to the overwhelming benefits of arts education, children and adolescents do not have arts education experiences.
Organizations like the Arts Education Partnership (2012) provide a gateway to reliable and accurate information about the benefits of arts education. ArtsEd Search (2012) acts as a clearinghouse of peer-reviewed articles, dissertations and other supporting reports that support arts education. This site is free and easily accessed; it is a tremendous aid for arts advocates because findings from valid research can be amassed to support the need for arts education in schools. Yet even so, the inconsistencies remain because every school district has a different idea of what children should know and what students should learn, and decisions are made accordingly. Bias plays a huge role in determining what is important and who will hear what arts advocates have to say.
What is ironic is that while research consistently provides evidence that arts education improves education and positively addresses almost every educational problem, school districts are either ignorant of this evidence or they ignore the overwhelming benefits. When decisions are made to remove or reduce arts education to improve test scores, research shows that the decisions makers are going in the opposite direction of their educational goals. With so much evidence showing that arts education help schools and students attain their educational goals, why isn’t there an increase in arts education? When placed in this light, decision makers who remove arts education to make way for more math and more science appear a bit ridiculous because they become less effective in providing the highest quality of education to children and irresponsible with the taxpayer’s money.
For example, in a recent study in Switzerland about the impact of musical training on school performance (Wetter, Koerner, & Schwaninger, 2009), researchers found that elementary students who had continuous musical training from grades 3 to 6 had greater academic achievement than those who did not, even when considering socio-economic status of the participants. In a quasi-experimental design with three groups, the musical training was tested against every subject, except physical education. Across the four-year span of their investigations, they found evidence that children who maintain a steady diet of musical instruction experience higher achievement in every subject.
The arts are a powerful tool; evidence repeatedly shows that arts instruction helps children and adolescents achieve and often surpass the academic goals policymakers set. When this power is ignored, the education system is using a metaphorical rowboat instead of a motorboat. Right now, educators seem to be more concerned with reforming laws instead of providing an education. If they are really serious about providing high quality education for every child, arts education should be embraced, expanded and explored. Until this happens, the laws are only lip service.
What is the solution to making arts education important? Arts advocates either need to become part of the decision making body and make the changes themselves, or they must educate as many people as possible, unite with them, and make changes as a movement. Otherwise, the arts will remain a core subject in name only. If the artistic disciplines are to be true core subjects, their power must be unequivocally acknowledged and taken seriously.
Americans for the Arts. (2005). No Subject Left Behind. Retrieved from http://www.americansforthearts.org/pdf/no_subject_left_behind.pdf
Arts Education Partnership. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.aep-arts.org/research-policy/state-policy-database/
ArtsEd Search. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.artsedsearch.org/
ED.gov. (n.d.) Elementary & secondary education: Subpart 15 –arts in education. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/pg80.html
ED.gov. (n.d.) H.R. 1804 GOALS 2000: Educate america act. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/legislation/GOALS2000/TheAct/index.html
Wetter, O., Koerner, F., & Schwaninger, A. (2009). Does Musical Training Improve School Performance?. Instructional Science: An International Journal Of The Learning Sciences, 37(4), 365-374