For years, opponents of arts education have used the argument that such programs are costly and weigh heavily on school budgets. But a recent survey has found quite the contrary and shows that art teachers are quite resourceful in using the materials they have on hand.
In fact, 67 percent of the 153 New Hampshire public schools to respond to a recent survey spend $20 or less per student per year on materials and resources for all arts education combined not including capital expenditures and teacher salaries. Even more, 15 percent spend $1 or less per student per year.
Such data-driven statistics are new for arts educators and arts organizations who, for years, have relied on anecdotal evidence to show why the arts are valuable in school. As school boards and politicians look to quantify education through statistics, the New Hampshire State Department of Education teamed up with the State Council on the Arts and the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire in a project known as Measuring Up: NH Arts Education Data Project. In this first-ever statewide assessment of school art programs, 153 public schools representing 84,840 students or roughly 43 percent of the entire student population participated in a free online survey that asked about curriculum, funding, classroom space, use of artists in residence programs, and related matters.
“People are really surprised by the amount of information we collected,” said Marcia McCaffrey of the Department of Education. “We can now show the information in a unique way and tell a story we’ve never been able to before.”
McCaffrey said the report eliminates false misconceptions about the arts. The first McCaffrey pointed to was that art programs are so costly. She said there is a great deal of student art work at the Department of Education office in Concord. She said the quality of the work is impressive and upon closer inspection you’ll find the works are made of simple materials like construction paper, markers and scissors.
“Teachers are very resourceful,” McCaffrey said.
The report found that a good deal of students are being exposed to the arts in school. Eighty-eight percent of elementary students participate in both music and visual arts classes for about 50 minutes per week in each art form, while 73 percent of high schools have policies that exceed the state graduation requirement of one-half credit in the arts.
Such exposure to the arts is important for students in an ever-changing world, according to McCaffrey.
“The arts work through a variety of mediums that support all disciplines,” McCaffrey said. “They are part of the learning process in school.”
Despite their importance and prevalence, the report found that 50 percent of schools that weigh grades did not include the arts when calculating students’ grade point averages. Yet 100 percent of schools received outside dollars to support arts education. Fifty-four percent of those funds came from parent-teacher organizations, while only 2 percent came from local businesses.
The report was released within days of Division 1 of the House Finance Committee announcing its intention to cut a large portion of the State Council on the Arts’ budget. This reduction of an estimated $400,000 would all but eliminate the organization, according to several arts patrons. Such a loss would be felt in the schools, as 30 percent of schools that responded had worked with at least one artist in residence, which is a program run by the State Council on the Arts. And 44 percent of those schools found the program provided knowledge about other cultures.
“I believe the arts are an important component of education for the whole child, preparing students more completely for success in college, career and life,” Dr. Virginia Barry, Commissioner of Education, said in the report.
The report’s authors came up with several recommendations, which McCaffrey hoped would be read by a wide cross-section of the community including teachers, parents and policy-makers. These recommendations aren’t just about pouring more money into the arts, but about incorporating arts, and the way they engage students’ thoughts, more fully into the curriculum. Such recommendations include using arts-based strategies to support student learning, increasing technology opportunities in the arts for students and building on this newly collected database.
The complete report is posted at www.aannh.org/measuringup.