The status quo is “stalemate.”
The intention of the federal Title I program is to improve the academic achievement of children in schools with the highest percentages of children low-income families. That improvement is measured by improvement in English language arts (ELA) and math.
According to the guidance provided by the California Department of Education, a school may elect to use arts education strategies to improve student achievement “if, after conducting a comprehensive needs assessment, the school has identified research-based strategies programs incorporating arts instruction to improve the achievement for students in ELA or math for participating students.”
But that’s not what happens …
For the most part, school districts elect either to ignore the opportunities that arts education provide to reach students in transformative ways, or they provide those services “under the radar,” allowing students to benefit from those strategies, but choosing not to draw attention to those services.
Arts education fosters creativity, innovation, critical thinking, and teamwork – skills students will need to participate in a 21st century workforce. Employed effectively, arts education advances language acquisition and strengthens language arts and math comprehension.
In 2009, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote, “Title I, Part A of ESEA funds arts education to improve the achievement of disadvantaged students.”
Unfortunately, in California and in all but a handful of states, that message is not getting through. States are reluctant to incur the wrath of federal oversight that could jeopardize funding, concerned that even though the Secretary may support this practice, those overseeing the federal program don’t share his interpretation of the law.
And in California, school districts are reluctant to implement arts strategies for Title I that may run afoul of state interpretation. As a result, the very children who might most benefit from arts education as a resource to improve their academic achievement never get close to those resources.
The best way to replace the existing climate of “fear of reprisal” is with strong, decisive leadership. That’s what happened in Arizona, where Superintendent Tom Horne directed $4 million of Title I funding to support arts education at 43 schools throughout the state. In 2004-05, the first year of Title I-F funded arts integration programs across the state, the Arizona Department of Education found statistically significant gains in reading for students participating in arts integration programs funded across the state versus students not participating.
Last year the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities released a report, “Reinvesting in Arts Education – Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools.” It said, “PCAH believes that local decision makers need to hear clear, direct, and focused statements from the leaders of federal and state education agencies about how the arts fit within current education priorities.”
The time has come to move beyond the “status quo.” We call on Superintendent Tom Torlakson to work in partnership with a diverse mix of school districts to demonstrate how Title I can be utilized to support student achievement through the arts.
California’s children deserve to know what’s right about arts education.
Joe Landon co-wrote this piece with Danielle Brazell. Joe Landon is the Executive Director of the California Alliance for Arts Education, a nonprofit organization that advances visual and performing arts education in K-12 public schools. Prior to joining the Alliance staff, Landon worked in the Capitol as a senior consultant for Speaker Robert Hertzberg and Assemblywoman Wilma Chan. Previously he worked as a screenwriter in Los Angeles, and as a music and theater teacher.
Danielle Brazell transitioned Arts for LA from an ad hoc steering committee comprised of local executive arts leadership to a highly visible arts advocacy organization. She is the former Director of Special Projects for the Screen Actors Guild Foundation and Artistic Director of Highways Performance Space.