Why We Should Care About The Decline of Arts Education in Our Public Schools


In recent years, many school districts have had to make the difficult choice to cut art programs (drama, music, visual arts, photography, etc.), due to budget cuts and based upon state/national academic priorities that are more focused on math and English student achievement.

The ‘budget crisis’ came against the backdrop of the decade-long emphasis on math and reading as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind law and other state initiatives and acts. For instance, in Los Angeles Unified School District, one-third of the district’s 345 arts teachers were let go between 2008 and 2012, and the arts offerings for half of K-5 students were reduced to zero (Edscource, 2014). Sadly, the lack of art education programs at the elementary level throughout California is still the norm.

The decline of arts education also has raised equity and access issues because budget cuts have fallen along economic lines. For instance, independent, private, and other schools with access to private or additional resources have generally been able to withstand budget cuts by raising private dollars to subsidize those funds (Edsource, 2014). The decline of arts education has been felt most severely in low-performing, low-income schools.

This is because administrators may have moved resources out of the arts budgets and into remedial math and English, in an effort to avoid being placed into program improvement status (one potential penalty for schools that don’t hit achievement benchmarks on standardized tests) (Edsource, 2014). Ironically, these are the very schools that stand to benefit most from strong arts curriculums.

Incorporating the arts into the curriculum can benefit all students, and it can have some secondary benefits, such as improving student achievement. For example, Public Middle School 223 in the Bronx is just one example of a school using arts integration methods effectively. This school is one of the lowest-income districts in New York and it participated in a four-year arts integration program with amazing results. The school went from no art instruction to instruction with multi-faceted lesson plans that supported arts inclusion. The results? An 8 percent improvement in Language Arts scores, 9 percent improvement in math scores, and less absenteeism (Edvocate, 2016). Edvocate further mentions, “if students want to be in school more because of arts integration, and their test scores improve, that is reason enough to call the program a great success” (2016).

The message is simple, instead of treating the arts as separate from other classroom endeavors, it’s time to embrace the value for the integration of music, painting, dancing, drawing, and singing into traditional subjects like science, math, and language.

Many states have adapted art standards for their own states based upon the National Core Art Standards. The National Core Art Standards follow four strands of anchor standards. You should take some time to review your own state’s standards for art education and determine how your state’s standards align with the following four anchor strands below:

  1. Creating: The first anchor strand focuses on the process of creating, conceiving, and developing new ideas and artwork.
  2. Performing, Presenting, & Producing: The second anchor strand focuses on performing, presenting, and producing in dance, music, theater, visual arts, and media arts. This includes the interpretation, sharing, presentation, and appreciation of art products and performances.
  3. Responding: The third anchor strand focuses involves the evaluation of the arts to convey a deeper meaning.
  4. Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and works with personal meaning and external context.

Whether it is starting small, classroom by classroom, or school by school, rekindling the arts into the curriculum benefits all students. The Bottom line is that even without the cash in hand, schools can and should seek out arts integration initiatives in their classrooms.