With NYC School Reforms, a Plan for Arts Programs?

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Violin lesson (Shutterstock.com/michaeljung)

Graphic: How Four Arts Disciplines are Taught in NYC High Schools

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has put education reform at the top of his agenda, with a particular focus on universal pre-kindergarten, charter schools and after-school programs. But last week there was other news about the city's schools that may trouble education advocates: high school students aren’t getting nearly enough arts.

An audit by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found that two-thirds of students don’t meet state guidelines in the arts. Many students last year did not receive the required amount of hours of instruction while others were taught by non-certified teachers. The state sets these guidelines as conditions for funding.

The Department of Education disputed some findings of the audit but agreed with the comptroller's recommendations that it needs to do a better job at monitoring arts instruction.

The audit also underscored trends that date back to the 1970's budget crisis in New York City, when money for arts education was eliminated. Over the next 20 years there was no system-wide arts education; many schools relied on outside nonprofit groups to fill in the gaps. In the last decade, some arts programs have been restored, but quality varies from school to school, depending on the commitment of principals, teachers and parent body and the involvement of outside providers.

Ben Chapman, the education reporter at the New York Daily News, called the state of arts education "a mixed picture." He noted that the city's own annual Arts in Schools Report finds that the level of arts instruction has been flat or slightly improving over the past several years. But some educators, parents and students believe that the arts are being cut, or at least being ignored.

"I think that some schools are doing fine and other schools are struggling to include arts education as they focus on the core subject matter of math and reading," said Chapman in this podcast.

Mayor de Blasio campaigned on a promise to establish a four-year goal to ensure that every student receives arts education that meets the state's guidelines. The new audit provides a template as well as added pressure to deliver on this front.

Arts advocates, meanwhile, will need to convince the public and policy makers that their work matters. "Up until this point they haven't really done that," said Chapman. "It's a tough sell, but that's what they need to do."

Below: This chart shows the percentage of New York City high school students who received arts instruction in four different discplines between 2008 and 2013. While visual arts instruction largely held steady between 2008-2013, music, dance and theater instruction declined.


According to the Comptroller's audit, some schools lack certified arts teachers. In 2012-13, 72 percent of high schools reported having at least one full-time and/or part-time certified visual arts teacher; 44 percent reported having at least one certified music teacher; 22 percent reported having at least one certified theater teacher; and 16 percent reported having at least one certified dance teacher.

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Comments [8]

concetta nardone from Nassau

Thanks Carol, hope you are well.

Mar. 15 2014 04:05 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

DD: You are not old! I am 55, so I guess we are of the same generation. Growing up in a working-class small town here in northern New Jersey, I had very little exposure to classical music through our public school system. Probably more of my exposure to it came through those old Bugs Bunny cartoons! However, something must have stuck, because later in life I began to take an interest in classical music, and over the years I have gradually developed a love for it. Now classical music has become a necessity in my life.
Concetta, you are correct - there is far too much ugliness and vulgarity in our culture today. I very rarely watch television; usually I read or listen to music in my spare time. The television networks are all concerned about the almighty dollar and so they put on programs that appeal to the lowest common denominator, and they aren't concerned about what is uplifting or beautiful if it doesn't bring in the money.

Mar. 11 2014 03:20 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

DD: Yes public education can help but where are the teachers who have the love for classical music. The media is not helping today, they also push too much tawdry and vulgar. Whatever happened to shame. NBC is the worst of the bunch. This is the network that gave us the NBC Symphony in the past when the Sarnoff family was in charge. We also got to see Amahl and the Night visitors Christmastime. Now the NBC channels give us Real Housewives, etc. Radio and TV can be a real help but they have chosen the easy way out rather than trying to bring a little beauty into our lives. I am 77 years old.
Best wishes

Mar. 11 2014 07:44 AM

@ concetta: I am also old (soon to be 60) but at least 50% of my music education was through public education. I sang in chorus in elementary (primary) school and junior high (grades seven through nine). I also started singing in a church choir at that time.

I sang in the high school concert choir (there were several) and madrigals, as well. And church choir the entire time.

I would hope that those public school opportunities are still be available.

p.s. I did not grow up in a major city -- a small city in southeastern Virginia.

DD~~

Mar. 10 2014 09:41 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

We are exposed to too much ugliness in what passes for the popular culture. Appreciation for the arts cannot be taught that much in the schools. It is something that must be appreciated outside the schools by the home environment. I was lucky in having both Italian radio and American radio while growing up. Yes, I am old. We appreciated great music at home despite a blue collar background by my father and mother.

Mar. 09 2014 08:26 AM
Tim Miller from Staten Island

As one of the "non-certified" teachers referred to, I would be willing to yield my volunteer efforts to a certified teacher if NYC Department of Education budget guidelines for a 325-student Title 1 school provided the funds. As it is, guidelines do not even provided enough funds that my principal does not have to be creative in meeting all of the actual educational mandates. Still, I would bet that my band members graduate having been exposed to more practical music theory than many kids with certified teachers.

Mar. 08 2014 09:39 PM
David from Flushing

Huge numbers of school kids are led through the Metropolitan Museum on any school day. Yet when they grow up, how many will come on their own? The groups that form the vast majority of public school students are those one is least likely to see as adults. There is something more basic to not liking classical music than lack of exposure.

Mar. 08 2014 03:57 PM
Sanford Rothenberg from Brooklyn

It is hardly surprising that arts education in general,and music education in particular,is in an abysmal state.With each passing year,public school students become more and more musically illiterate.This topic fits in with the several articles on these pages dealing with the demise of classical music.The news will not be any more optimistic until the quantity and quality of music education in the schools improve.

Mar. 07 2014 01:10 AM

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