Why Fine Arts Matter

Here’s a radical thought:

The arts — dance, drama, music, visual arts — belong in the core education of every child. An
arts-rich education improves student achievement, attitudes, and attendance. Schools committed
to the arts report lower dropout rates. Sustained involvement in the arts highly correlates with
success in mathematics and reading, especially among economically disadvantaged populations.
When the arts become central to the learning environment, schools become places of discovery,
promoting respect for cultural diversity and creating a strong sense of community through shared

Who said that? Our friends who run the Beaverton School District.

The Beaverton School District strives to ensure excellence in education for all children by
providing a variety of arts experiences, a comprehensive and sequential fine arts program, and
equity of opportunity

(Emphasis added.)

This is from Beaverton School District’s Fine Arts Position Paper (29KB PDF). It is a refreshingly common-sense attitude toward fine arts education, one we find utterly lacking in Portland Public Schools.

Instead of a comprehensive and sequential curriculum, we have a confusing patchwork of offerings at the discretion of site administrators. We are not properly building foundations in the elementary years to feed into specialized fine arts programs in the secondary years (band, orchestra, chorus, etc.). But even worse, we are not building well-rounded learners.

Allowing site administrators to choose from a cafeteria of “enrichment,” without centrally coordinated curricula goals, virtually guarantees that our children will not be adequately educated in the fine arts. It also guarantees that inequity will not only persist, it will continue to be hidden in the weeds of a poorly-planned, poorly-implemented “system” of fine arts education.

Given research showing the benefits of fine arts education on attendance, achievement, attitude and drop-out rates, a budget truly focused on equity would insist on a centrally-coordinated fine arts curriculum at all of our Title I schools.

Instead, the proposed 2008-09 budget adds a small amount of FTE across the board, simply reinforcing existing inequities in arts education.

We can — and should — do better than this.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.