To the Editor:
Your recent news report on arts education might lead readers to conclude that K-12 programs have not been harmed by a decade of high-stakes testing (“No Obituary Needed for Arts Education, Data Suggest,” April 18, 2012).
Wrong. The data from a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics was gathered four years ago for secondary schools and three years ago for elementary schools, and sometimes compared with data from about a decade ago. Even if technically adequate, the report is out of date on arrival.
The NCES survey cannot inform policy because it is so out of sync with major changes in education. Among these are acute budget shortfalls and new high-stakes tests required for Race to the Top and federal school improvement funding. In 45 states, teachers and students have 1,600 new common-core standards in math and English to meet, plus new standards for other subjects.
The NCES survey leaves us with few conclusions about arts education beyond restating the sad and obvious: Policymakers do not expect coherent and systematic studies in the arts at every grade, and least of all in high-poverty schools.
Cutbacks in arts education are not a fiction. In the 2011 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, 23 percent of teachers reported reductions or eliminations of art or music programs during the past 12 months. These cuts were deeper in schools with enrollments that were more than two-thirds minority students than otherwise, 30 percent vs. 19 percent.
In the last 18 months, I have gathered 400 press reports about cuts.
Some NCES survey questions allow the National Endowment for the Arts to track the part-time employment of artists in schools, but officials at the endowment and the U.S. Department of Education have not expressed much concern about proliferating cuts and policies that severely limit studies in the arts in schools.
Laura H. Chapman
The writer is a distinguished fellow of the National Art Education Association.
A version of this article appeared in the May 23, 2012 edition of Education Week as Cutbacks in Arts Education Are a Reality