Melissa Mellor

Arts Instruction Remains Prevalent—For Some

A new nationwide survey on the state of arts education in U.S. public schools finds that arts offerings haven't declined as much as expected, but that students in high-poverty schools, particularly at the secondary level, do not receive the same rich exposure to arts opportunities as their wealthier peers.

Educators have long suggested that the No Child Left Behind Act's singular focus on reading and math combined with state and federal budget woes has forced schools to dramatically cut their arts programming. But the congressionally mandated study reveals no significant national declines in the availability of music and visual arts instruction in both elementary and secondary schools. Ninety-four percent of elementary schools offer music instruction and 83 percent offer visual arts instruction. However, only 3 percent of elementary schools offer specific instruction in dance, and only 4 percent in drama—a decrease from 20 percent of elementary schools offering instruction in those subjects during the 1999–2000 school year.

At the secondary level, 91 percent of schools offer music instruction, 89 percent offer visual arts, 12 percent offer dance, and 45 percent offer drama. None of these percentages represent significant changes from a decade ago.

The most troublesome survey findings demonstrate the gaps in arts availability for students in high-poverty secondary schools. Music instruction at these schools dropped from 100 percent in 1999–2000 to 81 percent in 2009–10, and visual arts instruction dropped from 93 percent to 80 percent.

During his announcement of the report's findings, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, "A well-rounded education is simply too vital to our students' success to let the teaching of the arts and humanities erode."

ASCD agrees with Duncan's conclusion and works with a coalition of education organizations to help ensure all students receive a well-rounded education. As part of this work, the coalition advocates for Congress's Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization efforts to include subject-specific grant programs that provide funding to support a whole child education.

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