Arts Advocacy Receives Research Gift

Two major Arts Education studies were released this past week, the FRSS 10-year comparison and the Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth a 12-year longitudinal study.  When these studies are married, their effectiveness as a tool for advocacy becomes undeniably clear.  While the FRSS will get much of the press because Secretary Duncan presented it, the study is of little consequence to the progression of arts education other then outright stating of significant declines in the amount of offerings across the board.  On the other hand, move over Charlie Bucket, the longitudinal study is the golden ticket arts education advocators have been praying for.

The longitudinal study gives the data for students of Low Socioeconomic Status (low SES) with both high and low arts exposure and their counterparts in the High Socioeconomic Status (high SES).  The matrixes measured for each of the four categories include high school graduation rates, civic involvement, recorded GPA, college graduation rates, average test scores, volunteer rates, other extracurricular activities, and labor market outcomes.  The results are startling, not because they affirm what advocates have said for years, but because of the achievement gap between low SES/low arts and low SES/high arts.

Looking at graduation rates alone, low SES/low arts had a dropout rate of 22%, compare that to low SES/high arts with a dropout rate of 4%.  The low SES/high arts students are even below the overall sample average of 7%.  For the mindset of these low SES/high arts students, we need only to look at the percentage of 8th graders planning to earn a bachelor’s degree 74% compared to 43%.  These are motivated students and compared to their low arts counterparts they are 14% more likely to vote in a national election or local election, 21% more like to volunteer, and 29% more likely to read the newspaper.  Looking at grades and curriculum, the high arts students have an average GPA of .39 points above low arts and were 10% more likely to enroll in calculus while in high school.

It should be noted that the high arts students are inherently involved individuals, as they are participants in athletics and service organizations.  However, students who are involved in other activities but are low arts do not have as high of GPA or curriculum gains as high arts students.

This is all fine and dandy, but why am I saying that this is hugely important when combined with the FRSS data?  Because in secondary school music alone there was a drop of 19% of offered programs for students in the low SES, but the high SES saw an increase of 6% between 2000-2010.  In affect, the advantage is going to the advantaged, while the disadvantaged are becoming disenfranchised.  But there’s more: of the high SES, 62% of schools offered 5 or more courses in the music, while low SES only measured 32%.

One area the low SES has dominated though is in collaboration and integration.  Music teachers in low SES are 14% more likely to consult with other teaches to incorporate units of study from other subject areas into the music curriculum and 17% more likely to utilize an integrated music instructional program with other academic subjects and 18% with other arts subjects.

Like music, visual arts have rather similar data (in secondary schools): a drop in offering for the low SES of 13% and only 22% of the remaining programs offering 5 or more courses.  Compare that to the 95% of high SES schools of which 56% offer 5 or more visual arts classes.  The unexpected number in all this comes from the consulting with other teachers to incorporate units of study from other subject areas into the visual arts curriculum indicator for low SES, which stands a staggering 17% above high SES.

So what’s the conclusion?  The students who benefit most from high exposure to the arts are receiving less of it then they did 10 years prior.  Granted we had the Great Recession and states have to balance their budgets, as a native Californian (and boy, did we get hit hard in 2008) I understand.  That does not mean we are off the hook.  As Secretary Duncan has said time and again, “we’re either going to invest in education or not, it comes down to the values.  Everyone has to step up or we’re going to struggle.” (March 2, 2012)

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