Art does not solve problems, but makes us aware of their existence,” sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz has said. Arts education, on the other hand, does solve problems. Years of research show that it’s closely linked to almost everything that we as a nation say we want for our children and demand from our schools: why the child has problems with math achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity. Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill.
Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork. Get the best of Edutopia in your inbox each week. Evidence supports this contention — we’ll get to the statistics in a minute — but the reality is more complex. This erosion chipped away at the constituencies that might have defended the arts in the era of NCLB — children who had no music and art classes in the 1970s and 1980s may not appreciate their value now. Comprehensive, innovative arts initiatives are taking root in a growing number of school districts.
If they’re worried about their test scores and want a way to get them higher, they need to give kids more arts, not less,” says Tom Horne, Arizona’s state superintendent of public instruction. There’s lots of evidence that kids immersed in the arts do better on their academic tests. Education policies almost universally recognize the value of arts. Forty-seven states have arts-education mandates, forty-eight have arts-education standards, and forty have arts requirements for high school graduation, according to the 2007-08 AEP state policy database. In a 2003 report, “The Complete Curriculum: Ensuring a Place for the Arts and Foreign Languages in American’s Schools,” a study group from the National Association of State Boards of Education noted that a substantial body of research highlights the benefits of arts in curriculum and called for stronger emphasis on the arts and foreign languages. Top-down mandates are one thing, of course, and implementation in the classroom is another. Whatever NCLB says about the arts, it measures achievement through math and language arts scores, not drawing proficiency or music skills.