A Center on Education Policy survey released last year showed that more than 40 percent of the districts surveyed have cut time in elementary schools for non-tested subjects, including art and music.

Such moves have forced schools in cities such as Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Dallas to find creative ways to squeeze arts into the day, such as partnering with arts groups, non-profit organizations and universities to bring more cultural experiences to students.

“I think we’re seeing a resurgence of the arts,” said Mary Fulton, a policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States. “There’s been a push back by parents and others who want to keep the arts in schools and want their children to have a well-rounded education.”

The National Association for Music Education says skills learned through the discipline of music transfer well into study, cognition and communication skills that are useful in other subjects.

Yet the No Child Left Behind education reform act, which requires schools to meet annual progress goals or face sanctions, including reorganization, has in many cases shifted the focus to test scores instead of musical scores.

The Center on Education Policy survey found that U.S. students have been spending more time on math and reading and less on other subjects since 2001. The 2007 report, which examined how No Child Left Behind had affected curriculum and instructional time, showed that 16 percent of districts surveyed had reduced class time for art and music.

“We’ve raised the stakes now for schools so high that the decisions are different,” said Julie Bell, education program director with the National Conference of State Legislatures. “That ultimate determination of whether your school’s going to succeed or not — that’s obviously what’s driving the budgets.”

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said schools don’t have to choose between reading and math and the arts.

“This notion that these things are mutually exclusive, I completely reject,” she said.

Mike Blakeslee, deputy executive director of the National Association for Music Education, agrees.

Outside groups and after-school programs can’t replace daily efforts by certified teachers, he contends.

“Music is a discipline like any other,” Blakeslee said. “It needs ongoing, planned, sequential delivery.”

In some districts, the solution is to partner with community groups to provide extra arts opportunities outside the school day, such as field trips to museums or performances at school assemblies, while hiring more teachers to provide daily instruction.

The Los Angeles Unified School District uses community arts groups to work with teachers on professional development. The district also is working to put at least four arts teachers — in dance, music, visual arts and theater — in every elementary school.

So far, 340 out of 500 schools have teachers in all those subjects, said Richard Burrows, director of arts education for the district.

The Dallas Independent School District, with help from community partners, is creating arts “hubs” in libraries and other community facilities. The district also plans to hire 140 new music and arts teachers over three years, with a goal of exposing elementary school students to 45 minutes of art and music in school each week. It will cost the district about $7 million out of its budget of more than $1 billion.

Deanna Martin
Chicago Tribune