Every year it seems like the need for a way to close the achievement gap between students of different socioeconomic statuses gets even greater. We’ve tried an incredible variety of solutions, some of which have worked and others that haven’t. No one thing works for every single student, but there are certainly some things that have shown stunning success… and yet we keep turning away from them.
At-risk students often struggle in school, for reasons some of us can’t even begin to understand. Our kids have been through far too much for their age. But studies have shown that these students see greater success in school (through attendance, grades, interest, and graduation rates) when their school environment is art-rich. In fact, students who are exposed to the arts on a regular basis at school have double the graduation rate of those who aren’t. That’s a huge difference.
Yet instead of seeing growth of the arts in schools that are short of funding (and serving families that are struggling economically as well), arts programs are always the first to get shut down and labeled as nonessential. Focus goes completely to the “core” subjects, usually emphasizing math and science. True, our kids need those skills as well, but when we cut out art, we’re removing their way of expressing themselves and tapping into their creativity.
Furthermore, the lack of arts programs can be extremely frustrating for those students whose talents are in the arts realm rather than in math and science. Why do we deny our students the right to showcase their talents? Why do we label what they have a natural talent for as “inessential” and unimportant? That’s the message we send when we shut down or lack arts programs.
Rocco Landesman, Chairman for the National Endowment for the Arts, puts it succinctly: “Having the arts in young people’s lives is essential; we know that intuitively… But over the past four decades, budget pressures and an increasing focus on just reading and math have crowded the arts out of too many school days.”
He cites opportunity for expression and potential as things lost with the arts. “Students who have arts-rich experiences in school do better across-the-board academically, and they also become more active and engaged citizens, voting, volunteering, and generally participating at higher rates than their peers.”