Study of the arts enhances young people's
intellectual, personal, and social development. The arts provide a
rich and engaging curriculum that develops students' abilities to think,
reason, and understand the world and its cultures. A comprehensive
arts education encompasses such areas as the history of the arts, the
honing of critical-analysis skills, the re-creation of classic as well
as contemporary works of art, and the expression of students' ideas
and feelings through the creation of their own works. In other words,
students should have opportunities to respond, perform, and create
in the arts.
Research has shown that those who study
the arts improve their achievement in other subjects, including mathematics,
reading, and writing. In math, for example, studies
point to a direct connection between music and spatial reasoning
and spatial temporal skills, which are important to understanding and
using mathematical concepts. For high school students, coursetaking
data collected by the College Board indicate that students of the arts
annually outperform their nonarts peers on the SAT. In 2004, for example,
students who studied music scored 40 points higher on the math portion
of the test than students reporting no arts coursework.
Similarly, students who studied acting and play production outscored
their nonarts peers on the verbal portion of the SAT by an average
of 66 points.
The effect of arts study on reading is similar. Because reading
is the educational skill upon which all others in our lives are
based, the No Child Left Behind Act focuses on literacy and sets
the goal that all students read by the 3rd grade. We know from
research that the arts can help achieve this goal, and that certain
forms of arts instruction enhance and complement reading instruction.
Studies have shown, for example, that when creative dramatics
are a component of reading with preschool-age children, skills
in comprehension and vocabulary increase.
The academic benefits of arts education also go beyond math and
reading. An analysis of U.S. Department of Education data on 25,000
middle and high school students found that students who were highly
involved in the arts performed better on a variety of academic
measures than other students. They earned better grades, did better
on exams, performed more community service, and watched fewer
hours of television. And a growing amount of evidence shows that
the arts can be particularly beneficial to students from economically
disadvantaged backgrounds, and can even keep some potential dropouts
Most Americans recognize the importance of this early engagement
in the arts. A recent Harris Poll found that 90 percent of respondents
considered the arts vital to a well-rounded education for all
students. The same poll also revealed that nine in 10 parents
of school-age children oppose subjecting arts programs to budget
To put it simply, we need to keep the arts in education because
they instill in students the habits of mind that last a lifetime:
critical analysis skills, the ability to deal with ambiguity and
to solve problems, perseverance and a drive for excellence. Moreover,
the creative skills children develop through the arts carry them
toward new ideas, new experiences, and new challenges, not to
mention personal satisfaction. This is the intrinsic value of
the arts, and it cannot be overestimated.
President Bush and both Democrats and Republicans in Congress
recognized that the arts have this intrinsic value, are a necessary
component of preparation for life in our democracy, and have a
positive impact on student achievement and motivation. They understood
that dance, drama, music, and the visual arts provide important
skills and are educationally powerful tools for reaching all learners-that
the arts can engage a child in ways that defy imagination. That's
why the arts are considered a core academic subject under the
No Child Left Behind law: They can and should play a central role
in fulfilling the law's goal of improved student achievement,
as well as similar goals of states, districts, schools, and parents.
And that's why the Department of Education included the arts,
in addition to math, science, and reading, in its Research-to-Practice
summit, a component of its Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative, this
The state of the arts varies from state to state and district
to district, but we are beginning to see recognition of their
importance in education across the country. Using the state of
Arkansas as an example, we can see this in more than a dozen school,
community, and governmental efforts to bring the arts to students.
o Every public school elementary student in the state now receives
instruction in music or the visual arts.
o The Future Art and Music Teachers pilot program gives 11th
and 12th grade students in at least six schools the opportunity
to offer music and visual-arts instruction to K-6 students.
o The Arkansas School for Mathematics and Sciences has been expanded
to include the arts, making the state one of only a handful offering
a year-round, rigorous program for students gifted in the arts.
o The A+ Schools Program, begun in North Carolina and operating
in Arkansas and Oklahoma as well, incorporates the arts into every
subject in the curriculum of a number of schools.
Other states are at work in this area as well. In Arizona, state
Superintendent Tom Horne's "content-rich curriculum" initiative
is investing $4 million in comprehensive-school-reform funds under
the No Child Left Behind Act to support arts education improvement
efforts at 43 schools throughout the state. The initiative is
based on the success of Tucson's Opening Minds Through the Arts
program, which received federal support from the Department of
Education's Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination
program. Again this year, the department's office of innovation
and improvement will solicit applications for both the models
program and professional-development projects for K-12 arts educators.
The Education Commission of the States is undertaking a two-year
focus on ensuring access to high-quality arts education in our
schools. The goal of the ECS initiative-The Arts: A Lifetime of
Learning-is to put the arts front and center on the education
agenda. Its work plan is centered on four interrelated areas-awareness,
research, tools, and state leadership-that, together, form the
word "arts" and provide a set of objectives vital to
increasing the arts' stature in education:
o Raise levels of public awareness and deepen understanding among
state policymakers about the educational, social, and civic benefits
of student involvement in the arts.
o Call for and contribute to the development of better state-level
research and data on which to base policy decisions.
o Equip state policymakers with the tools to analyze and interpret
state-level information related to the status and condition of
arts education and instruction in schools.
o Support state leadership in efforts to develop policies and
practices designed to improve educational outcomes for all students
through school-based integration of the arts.
As a nation, we must develop children who are productive, happy,
well-adjusted citizens, rather than kids who can just pass a test
and get through school. We must ensure that our children can compete
in the 21st-century economy by preparing a workforce and a citizenry
that can think creatively, skillfully, and "outside the box." The
arts are a vital part of doing this-and of ensuring that every
student can achieve his or her potential and contribute fully
to our society.
We know our nation is up to the challenge, but we must mobilize,
inform, educate, and inspire education and policy leaders to recognize
the vast potential returns that can be realized by investing now
in arts education. Because of their primary responsibility in
setting policy and in determining funding levels for public education,
these leaders play a critical role in helping to make and keep
the arts strong in schools.
By working together to bring the arts to every child in America,
not only will we change attitudes about the curriculum, but we
also will change the future of our country.