The arts are also frequently the motivators that get kids to school and keep them there. When schools hold events to show off their kids, it is the arts that they want to demonstrate—their band, orchestra, theater department, or paintings made by the kids. When we think of the times we enjoyed in school, they are usually in these extra-curricular activities. “Music is one of the main parts of our—and every—human culture,” explains Mike Blakeslee, Deputy Executive Director of the National Association of Music Education. “It is our birthright, but it is one that needs to be taught.”
Even for those who believe that math and reading are the most important subjects, and that schools need to focus on them, teaching music still makes sense. “There is a demonstrated link that sequential music study improves spatial reasoning and spatial-temporal reasoning skills,” says Blakeslee. “These are also important for learning math and science concepts. There are over 100 studies that show that music helps kids develop this sort of intelligence.”
The Arts Education Partnership has issued a study that shows that the arts support the learning of reading, math, and science in many ways. For example, arts instruction can help children who are learning to read “break the phonetic code” and master reading and writing more quickly. In short, the human mind is complex and varied, and drilling it on topics it will later be tested on is not the same as teaching. But it’s sad that we have reached a point in our education system when we need to argue for the value of the arts by how much they help us with math because we as a society do value art. Why shouldn’t our children?
It’s news to no one that our schools are troubled. President Bush stressed the importance of education reform during his campaign. In January 2002, the Bush administration passed the No Child Left Behind education reform bill and promised record funds to spark a revolution in American schools.
Yet, according to a report by the Children’s Defense Fund, the Bush Administration’s 2003 budget made the smallest proposed education increase in the past seven years.
It’s a noble concept, this revolution, but for those parents and teachers in the trenches it is adding to the problem. That’s because it is largely about accountability based on increasing standardized testing, starting testing in earlier grades, and refusing federal funds to schools that fail to meet test goals. More questionable is the fact that each state came up with its own goals, and so they are not comparable from one state to the next. One year into No Child Left Behind, most states are falling badly behind those goals—even when they are putting a lot of effort into education, partly because of the measurement system.
The stakes on testing are now set so high that no school dares refute them or rely on creative teaching methods unless they are very sure they will result in acceptable test scores. The federally mandated tests are so expensive to implement and track that the cost sometimes rivals the funding that's tied to them. For example, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, New Hampshire calculated that No Child Left Behind would cost $575 per student and only bring in $77 per student in new funding.