The latest data from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) show arts programs in the midst of drastic budget cuts. Only 50 percent of 18-year-olds surveyed report receiving any arts education in school. And the numbers are worse for minorities. Only 26 percent of African-Americans surveyed report having arts instruction in school. And only 28 percent of Hispanics (down from 47 percent in 1982).
Recent scores on the NAEP Arts assessment show similar gaps. In 2008, black and Hispanic students scored significantly lower than White and Asian students. Cuts in school programming forced the NAEP test to focus primarily on the visual arts and music, instead of all four arts areas (dance, music, visual art, and theatre) – so much for a well-rounded arts education.
Arne Duncan encourages schools to “cut smart:” to reduce shortsighted cuts, especially in the instruction of the arts. Yet, the arts verge on nonexistent in President Obama’s new budget plan for the Department of Education. Instead, STEM education is its top priority. Science, technology, engineering and math training is the focus. In practice, the emphasis of STEM education is often more on technology with little science, engineering, or math to go with it. Don’t students need to know about more than technology to succeed, even in the 21st century?
Research shows that children are more likely to be successful with a strong background in the arts. The best and brightest recognize the importance of music, dance, and visual arts in K-12 programming. So why aren’t we making the arts available to all of our students?