Arts Education Lacking in Low-Income Areas of New York City, Report SaysLINK
New York City’s comptroller plans to release a report on Monday quantifying what student advocates have long suspected: that many public schools in the city do not offer any kind of arts education, and that the lack of arts instruction disproportionately affects low-income neighborhoods.
With a mayor and a schools chancellor at the beginning of their terms, the comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, said he hoped the report would push the city to dedicate more money to art teachers and classrooms and become more transparent about how arts education resources are distributed across the schools. The report, using Education Department data, shows that 20 percent of public schools lack any arts teachers, including roughly one out of seven middle and high schools, even though state law requires arts instruction for middle and high school students.
“We treat arts classroom space the way we treat janitorial space — it’s just expendable. And it shouldn’t be,” Mr. Stringer said in an interview on Sunday, noting that instruction in the arts is associated with higher student grades and rates of college enrollment. “This is not a toolshed or a closet; this is where the next great artist or musician is going to happen.”
The shortage is disproportionately acute in low-income areas like the South Bronx and central Brooklyn, according to the report. More than 42 percent of the schools that do not have state-certified arts teachers are clustered in those areas.
Mr. Stringer said supplying a full-time, state-certified art teacher to every school that does not have one would cost about $26 million, which represents about a tenth of a penny for every dollar spent by the Education Department.
Between 2006 and 2013, spending on arts supplies and equipment dropped by 84 percent, the report said. When money is tight, arts education is often one of the first subjects to be sidelined, the report noted. It said the trend had accelerated as schools focused more on meeting accountability standards, shifting their resources from subjects seen as nonessential, like arts, to preparation for English and math tests. Arts, in the report, includes both visual and performing arts.
That conclusion is likely to add fuel to the backlash against accountability testing, which under the previous mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, was used to help determine public schools’ progress and whether they should be closed. After the previous comptroller, John C. Liu, found in 2011 that city schools were not providing enough physical education, principals blamed the pressure to dedicate already-scarce resources to test preparation.
Already, elected officials have responded by softening the emphasis on student test scores. State legislators limited the amount of time schools could spend on test preparation as part of this year’s budget deal, and the new mayor, Bill de Blasio, opposes Mr. Bloomberg’s focus on test scores.
“We’ve spent so much time over the last 10 years teaching to the test, and lost in the shuffle was arts teachers, arts curriculum and arts space,” Mr. Stringer said.
Mr. Stringer is calling for the Education Department to include information about schools’ art teachers, classrooms and partnerships with cultural organizations — or their lack — in the school progress reports that the city issues every year. The progress reports list other measurements, like student test scores and attendance rates, and under Mr. Bloomberg they played a large role in determining which schools would be closed.
To allow parents to see what arts instruction schools are offering, the comptroller’s website will feature a searchable database of the data in the report, Mr. Stringer said. A similar drive for transparency led the City Council to pass legislation in December requiring the city to disclose such data regularly.
The report also recommends putting financing for arts instruction on a separate budget line and expanding partnerships between the city’s cultural organizations and its schools. And the report calls for the school system to preserve the amount of space dedicated to arts instruction when schools are co-located with other public or charter schools.
With charter schools given generous space guarantees in public school buildings in the state budget, such a “no net loss” policy may prove tricky, but Mr. Stringer insisted that it was important enough that it should be nonnegotiable.
The report garnered an enthusiastic response from Carmen Fariña, the new schools chancellor, some of whose former students have recalled studying art history in her class. “We will work to provide schools with the support they need to offer dedicated art classes that our students deserve,” she said in a statement.
She, in turn, received a vote of confidence from Eric G. Pryor, the executive director of the Center for Arts Education, which has pushed the city to provide more arts education financing.
“With new city leadership committed to equity, and a new chancellor who understands the importance of arts instruction, we now have an excellent opportunity to ensure students receive the well-rounded education promised to them by state law,” he said in a statement.