39 Percent of Schools Require Arts for Graduation

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Although a majority of school administrators say the arts are a vital part of the public school curriculum, fewer than half the nation's high schools include them in graduation requirements, a federal survey has found.

The study by the National Center for Education Statistics says that more than 80 percent of elementary and secondary school leaders agree that music, the visual arts, and creative writing are "essential" or "very important" relative to other academic subjects. The figures were somewhat lower for drama, theater, and dance.

But despite the strong support from educators, only 39 percent of high schools require that students take classes in the arts in order to receive their high school diplomas, according to the findings released last week. And few high school students have access to courses in drama or dance, the study found.

The survey, "Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools," was conducted for the NCES and the National Endowment for the Arts in fall 1994 by Westat Inc., a Rockville, Md.-based research company. It is the first national survey to document the condition of arts education since a 1989 study by the National Arts Education Research Center at the University of Illinois, the NCES said.

Music Teachers Pervasive

The findings are based on written questionnaires or telephone interviews with officials at 679 elementary schools and 697 secondary schools.

Music is almost universally offered in elementary schools, and the visual arts are nearly as common, the report says. Of elementary schools that offer music, the vast majority rely on specially trained music teachers or a combination of specialists and regular teachers to instruct students.

But in the visual arts, a greater percentage of elementary schools--28 percent--rely solely on classroom teachers.

At the secondary level, 94 percent of schools reported offering separate instruction in music, 89 percent in the visual arts, 54 percent in drama and theater, 47 percent in creative writing, and 13 percent in dance.

Larger schools and schools in central cities and "urban fringe" areas were more likely than smaller schools and those in other regions to offer separate classes in the arts.

About a third of the respondents were aware of the voluntary national standards developed by the Consortium of National Arts Education Associations. "[The report] only confirms what we already know, that the arts are essential to children's education and to lifelong learning," said Judith E. Golub, the executive director of the American Arts Alliance, a Washington-based nonprofit group.

"We know the arts improve children's cognitive development, motivation, discipline, and willingness to learn," she said. "And we would hope the recognition of these results would translate into the arts being available universally in schools and throughout people's lives."

If educators can be shown how to integrate the arts with traditional academic subjects, public schools will be more likely to offer arts education, said Phyllis Susen, the director of the education-outreach program at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

"My experience [has been] that when you lead teachers through a process that is holistic, and show them how the arts are human-based and integrated with other subject areas, their comfort level about incorporating the arts rises, and they get excited about it," Ms. Susen said.

Vol. 15, Issue 09, Page 9

Published in Print: November 1, 1995, as 39 Percent of Schools Require Arts for Graduation
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