In recent decades, programs that develop students’ abilities in the areas of art, music, physical education, and library science have been subjected to increasing cuts as more and more districts have found themselves facing financial crises. The consequences of these cuts have been devastating for many pupils. The arts are strongly correlated with other forms of academic success, and some districts have attributed drops in standardized test scores in reading and math to the absence of a balanced approach to the curriculum and a real commitment to arts education.
How the Arts Enhance Education
A significant body of research shows that children benefit in many ways from the inclusion of the arts in their educations. Strong arts programs are correlated with gains in all of the other academic subject areas. Additionally, these programs open doors for those who may have untapped potential as dancers, musicians, sculptors, photographers, or a variety of other artistic pursuits. When the curriculum narrows, students whose greatest strengths happen to lie outside of the “Three Rs” suffer as their abilities go undeveloped. One of the purposes of formal education is to prepare children to succeed in the workforce, but without programs in the arts, students may be handicapped from entering huge numbers of careers that require a broader knowledge base.
Getting By With Less
The curriculum has narrowed in other ways, as well. As the pressure to produce higher test scores in reading and math has increased, the majority of school districts have taken a direct approach. Rather than recognizing the potential for gains in tested areas when students have access to a rich, diverse program of study, districts have slashed budgets for programs that don’t involve direct instructional time for math, reading, and in some cases, science. This has left many pupils without adequate access to physical education, library science, technology instruction, and other programs that provide them with a comprehensive education.
These cuts haven’t just impacted children’s abilities to develop academically. Teachers and parents have reported that in the wake of these program eliminations, student engagement and morale has suffered tremendously in some cases. Students in some schools are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain enthusiasm for learning, while others are experiencing difficulties with age-appropriate social interaction.
Many parents and community members are calling for major changes in the way school districts approach the allocation of staff and resources. While school districts have to face the reality of tight budgets, a shift in priorities is necessary to provide students access to the resources and instruction that will prepare them for success in the world beyond school.