Arts education in not just about finger-painting or stick figures on the fridge.
“Having the arts in young people’s lives is essential; we know that intuitively. And there was a time in this country when schools did their parts: Bands, choruses, theatricals and art studios used to fill the days alongside the 3 Rs, gym, social studies, science and the rest.”
So observes Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, in “The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth,” a recent study that tracked children and teenagers exposed to the arts over a long period of time.
Landesman notes that “over the past four decades, budget pressures and an increasing focus on just reading and math have crowded the arts out of too many school days. What’s lost? The chance for a child to express himself. The chance for the idiosyncratic child who has not yet succeeded elsewhere to shine. ... Something else is lost, too: potential. Students who have arts-rich experiences in school do better across the board academically, and they also become more active and engaged citizens, voting, volunteering and generally participating at higher rates than their peers.”
The study’s key findings regarding academic achievement show that teenagers and young adults of low socioeconomic status who have a history of in-depth arts involvement show better academic outcomes than youths who have fewer arts opportunities. They earn better grades and demonstrate higher rates of college enrollment and attainment. Specifically the study finds:
• Eighth-graders who had high levels of arts engagement from kindergarten through elementary school showed higher test scores in science and writing than did students who had lower levels.
• Students who had arts-rich experiences in high school were more likely than students without those experiences to complete a calculus course. Also, students who took arts courses in high school achieved a higher GPA in math than other students.
• Students who had arts-rich experiences in high school showed higher overall GPAs than students who lacked those experiences.
• High school students who earned few or no arts credits were five times more likely not to have graduated than students who earned many arts credits.
• Both eighth-grade and high school students who had high levels of arts engagement were more likely to aspire to college than were students with less arts engagement.
• Arts-engaged high school students enrolled in competitive colleges — and in four-year colleges in general — at higher rates than did low-arts-engaged students.
Education is central to the mission of South Shore Arts, and this year we have reached a new milestone, serving more than 28,000 students with meaningful arts experiences that improve their educational attainment and provide opportunities for creativity and self-expression. We are proud to play a role in utilizing the arts to improve students’ eduction.
John Cain is executive director of South Shore Arts and the Northwest Indiana Symphony. The opinions are the writer's.