Why Fine Arts Matter

7:00 am

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.

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

filed under: Arts, Equity

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6 Responses

  1. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Steve, very good points. You are so correct. I maintain that we need a definition of what constitutes a good education, which of course would include the arts, so we can have specific goals to work towards and a genuine way to evaluate how we are doing. P.E. is another class that should be in every school. So should an adequate (better yet, excellent) library. And the middle schools should have a solid program of after school sports and activities. End of story.

  2. Comment from Terry:

    Of course I think music and drama are the most important two and should certainly be available at all schools.

    I would also add journalism/newspaper to all high school offerings. It wouldn’t require much added expense or even additional FTE. Any reasonably motivated Engish teacher can master the fundamentals of news writing, and periodically publishing a school newspaper/newsletter can be done fairly cheaply. At Lakeview High School (where I taught journalism and drama in addition to language arts), we merely mimeographed the newspaper.

    Both journalism and drama (and music, to some extent) are cross-disciplinary in nature. To achieve school equity, the district needs to be thinking in those terms.

  3. Comment from NMLeggett:

    So no equity is ever properly funded. Peninsula has been instructed to offer up 2 FTE for enrichment. But we only gained 1.27 FTE this year. Bonus! We are adding 8th grade. So, the 1.25 more for enrichment leaves us a teacher short. Great idea, but how about a further wage freeze for all administrators to pay for it? The top 38 district leaders and directors saved the budget $133,000 by not feeling entitled to a 3% wage increase. If both the districts non-represented employees (about 200) and varied principals (about 270) didn’t take home another 3% it would save our schools $1,188,000. They only built in $1,350,000 to this budget for enrichment. The leaders could do more for our children by not taking more for themselves.
    Nicole Leggett

  4. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Considering how the school board has repeatedly tried to squeeze those at the bottom of the pay scale to save some nickels, your proposal is brilliant, Nicole.

    Let’s trim the fat, not the bone. It’s a lot easier for a $90K + administrator to absorb a freeze than a $20K custodian.

  5. Comment from Mary Morris:

    Please read my comment to our leader.

    Dear Carol,
    Thank you for your letter and commitment to the future of our schools. As an Arts teacher at the middle school level I have concerns for equity in the Arts for 6-8th graders across the district. In many of the k-8 programs there are so few or no licenced Arts teachers. In those that do have them the contact time with the students does not even come close to the classes that meet every day, all year in their fellow Middle School models. I am worried for the futures of their highschool programs. Will they be able to offer the same level of instruction, if their incoming students have never had arts instruction by certified instructors offered to them.

    Sadly , in looking at our current F.T.E. in our K-8 programs, I found 11 schools not having any kind of Art elective F.T.E.There were 23 schools where there is less than a .6 F.T.E in Visual Arts, where sixth to eight grade students attend. I teach at a school given much the same F.T.E. as any other, but we have chosen to put it in the arts.Here at da Vinci ,our students have 5.5 arts teachers. We are a school of choice with a small enrollment. We can’t be the only option, nor should we ,for quality instruction. All students in the middle years, regardless of where they attend school, should have the opportunity for substantial instruction, that can build the skills required to meet 8th grade benchmarks. Watered down programs give the illusion that we are solving the problem, but the future looks bleak for art in our high schools, and our communities. Less options should be given to administrators to slash arts programing, if we are ever to see equity.
    Mary Morris
    Art Teacher
    da Vinci Arts Middle School

  6. Comment from Jefferson cluster parent:

    Great letter to the superintendent, Mary Morris! Thank you for taking the time to write it and for sharing it with us.