Over the past 30 years, arts education has been steadily disappearing as education budgets have been slashed. But that’s not the only reason. As schools felt increasing pressure to spend more time on the high-stakes testing categories of reading and math, curriculum narrowed in focus, leading to a significant reduction in the amount of time spent on arts and music instruction. In poorer school districts these types of courses have been eliminated altogether, while in more affluent districts parents fund the arts programs. Thanks to the passage of Prop. 30, for the first time in six years California’s economy is on the upswing and school districts can begin restoring many of the programs they had eliminated — many of which were in the arts. In fact, over the next seven years, our schools and colleges will see an influx of $42 billion. “This new money coming into our schools gives us, as education advocates, a real opportunity to ensure a well-rounded education for all students,” says CTA President Dean E. Vogel. “Bringing the arts back to students in our poorest communities can help level the learning field.” So, in addition to more resources, we came up with five reasons to bring back the arts — with some help from our members and their students in San Ramon, Downey, Compton and Danville.
1. The arts make you smarter
Extensive research shows arts education engages students in learning, improves achievement, and reduces truancy and dropout rates. It also helps prepare students for the 21st century workforce, increasing the ability to innovate, communicate and collaborate. A recent Harris poll shows 93 percent of Americans consider the arts vital to providing a well-rounded education and a critical link to learning and success. Johns Hopkins researchers reported that arts education can help “rewire” the brain in positive ways. The scientists found that practicing a specific art form increased the efficiency of students’ attention network as a whole — even when working in other areas of study.
2. The arts enhance the educational experience
I want students to understand the characters, social hierarchy, and how to navigate the intricacies of Shakespearean syntax. So they perform a dance where Romeo meets Juliet. They see how Elizabethans moved, what they listened to and what they were like. They were proud, dignified and very much aware of being upper-class. Students remember that. They get Shakespeare. During the rest of the play, I ask them to remember how the dancing and music made them feel. Integrating the arts with core curriculum can be summed up in one word. That word is joy.
Kimberley Gilles, English teacher at Monte Vista High School
San Ramon Valley Education Association
It feels like I went back in time. People were more proper and formal. Dancing helped me to understand what it meant to be Romeo or Juliet.
Monte Vista High School student Becky Paholski
During that time people walked differently. They listened to waltz music. There was lots of bowing. When Romeo and Juliet met at the dance, they were spellbound, but also formal, stiff and reserved. I learned all that from dancing.
Monte Vista High School student Stephanie Walker
3. The arts level the playing field and create harmony
Classes in the arts are losing many students. Students who are ‘below basic’ lose their electives and get put in intervention classes. But if you take away art, music and drama, what incentive do kids have to succeed in school? The arts provide a reason for kids to stay out of trouble. The arts level the playing field. In arts classes, you’ll find high-achieving kids and so-called troublemakers working together and getting along. They have to, just like in the real world. My son was never the best student in the world, but his saving grace was music. I credit his band director with helping him to graduate from high school.
Tony Reyna, band director at Sussman Middle School
Downey Education Association
Playing the flute teaches me a lot about my personality. I have learned to trust myself. I have confidence in myself. When I play, I feel like I’m in a different world.
Sussman Middle School student Fany Lima
4. Art makes the world beautiful
The visual arts give inner-city students a way to express how they feel and provide an outlet for them to communicate with society. They can create murals, posters and beautify their community’s schools, businesses and churches. Having that outlet opens doors and exposes them to a world where they can connect with people from other states, countries and cultures. It gives students more confidence. It brings out the greatness in them.
Cleveland Palmer, art teacher at Compton High School
Compton Education Association
Art makes me feel good. It takes my mind off things. It relaxes me. It’s a good way to spend my time. If art was taken away, I would be pretty mad.
Compton High student Geovanny Juarez
In this class I discovered my talent and learned how it could apply to society, the art industry and jobs in the future. It feels therapeutic to express my emotions and ideas in a language that everyone understands.
Compton High student Alejandra Chavez, winner of Congressional Art Competition, District 37
5. The arts help students express themselves
Studies prove that students who take music tend to do better in math. They are dividing and subdividing beats, so there’s a lot of math involved. Students who study music score higher on their SATs. They have higher attendance in schools. Districts are so worried about the test, they don’t realize that providing music is one of the best things they can do to help improve achievement for kids academically, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Also, music is one of the few activities that engage both sides of the brain at the same time.
Mary Dick, choir teacher at Granite Oaks Middle School
Rocklin Teachers Professional Association
I love singing. It makes me feel happy. I can express myself with my voice.
Granite Oaks Middle School student Kate McLaughlin
In choir, we get to sing songs and express ourselves. We aren’t judged in here like we are on the outside. It’s a positive atmosphere. You can be yourself.
Granite Oaks Middle School student Mitchell Secondo