At the beginning of the 2007–08 school year, the New York City Department of Education introduced ArtsCount, an initiative aimed at enhancing arts education in New York City public schools. A centerpiece of this initiative was the development of a series of metrics on the arts education taking place in city schools. As part of this effort, in spring 2007, the DOE released the first ever citywide Annual Arts in Schools Report for the 2006–07 school year,29 along with individual reports for each school. That was followed by a second Annual Arts in Schools Report for the 2007–08 school year several months later.30
The reports, based on surveys completed by principals toward the end of the school year, have provided the most comprehensive reporting on arts education in New York City public schools in recent memory. They make clear that access to arts education in public schools is far from universal. While some schools offer enviable arts programs, many have little to no arts education whatsoever—no art teachers on staff, no classrooms dedicated to the arts, no partnerships with arts or cultural organizations, and minimal student participation in any of the four required art forms.
The DOE’s Office of the Arts and Special Projects has been actively providing information and resources to help schools that are underserved in the arts. While many schools have made great strides, comparing data from the two Annual Arts in Schools Reports reveals year-over-year declines in several key arts education areas:
- Nearly 30 percent of schools had no certified arts teacher on staff in 2007–08—up from 20 percent the previous year.
- Principals allocated a smaller percentage of their budgets to arts education in 2007–08—shrinking to less than 2.9 percent on average.
- Principals spent more than half a million dollars less on services provided by art and cultural partners in 2007–08 compared to the previous year.
- There was a 63 percent decline in spending on arts supplies and equipment in 2007–08 over the previous year—a reduction of nearly $7 million.
These year-over-year declines correspond to a decision by the current administration to all but eliminate a successful program that ensured that a minimum level of arts funding was being allocated at all schools on a per-pupil basis. The program, Project Arts, created in 1997, was a catalyst for hiring certified arts teachers, purchasing supplies, securing services of arts education providers, and encouraging private contributions to match public dollars. In 2007, categorical funding provided through Project Arts was folded into a school’s overall budget and principals were no longer required to spend these funds on the arts.
Perhaps most troubling, the Annual Arts in Schools Reports revealed that the great majority of the city’s public schools were failing to meet the minimum state requirements for arts education as set by the New York State Education Department and outlined in Part 100 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education.31
The regulations require that all elementary schools offer instruction in four arts disciplines (visual arts, music, theater, dance) to every student; that middle school and high school students complete a least one full unit of study (two courses/credits) in the arts; and that each public school district provide high school students the opportunity to complete a three- or five-unit arts sequence.
These requirements are complemented by recommended guidelines, developed by NYSED to ensure that students receive a balanced curriculum,32 and New York State Learning Standards for the arts that express the educational goals for dance, music, theater, and the visual arts.33
The state requirements for arts instruction have the effect and power of law, yet lack of compliance with these educational mandates is widespread throughout the New York City public school system. According to the Annual Arts in Schools Reports, at the elementary and middle school levels, for example:
- Only 8 percent of elementary schools reported providing annual arts instruction in all four arts disciplines as per state requirements, an improvement from 4 percent the previous year (2007–08 report).
- Only 29 percent of middle school students met the state arts education requirement (completion of two half-unit arts courses) (2006–07 report).
- Less than half of middle schools reported that all students had met state education requirements for the arts (2007–08 report).
The lack of compliance reported by the DOE was confirmed by the New York City Public Advocate’s office through a 2008 survey of 100 randomly selected public elementary and 50 randomly selected public middle schools.34 The Public Advocate’s survey results show that:
- Only 7 percent of elementary schools surveyed offered instruction in all four arts disciplines as required by state regulations.
- Sixty-eight percent of elementary schools and 47 percent of middle schools surveyed offered only one or two arts disciplines.
- Seven percent of elementary schools and 9 percent of middle schools surveyed had no arts education at all.
Arts in New York City High Schools
The NYSED high school graduation requirements are minimal for the arts: the completion of one unit (two credits) in the arts over the course of a student’s high school career. In New York City, one unit is defined as 180 minutes per week throughout the school year, or the equivalent. It is recommended that the instruction be provided by a teacher certified to teach the particular subject area.
State regulations also require that each school district offer the opportunity to complete a three- or five-unit sequence in the arts. As of 2009, students who complete five units in a single art form and successfully complete the exit exam in that art form are eligible to receive a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation in the Arts.35
While providing New York City students with the minimum of two courses over four years should not be onerous, neither the 2006–07 nor the 2007–08 Annual Arts in Schools Report states explicitly whether or not schools were meeting the requirements. The two reports do, however, provide the following information, which tracks the regulations most closely:
- Seventy-nine percent of high schools offered instruction in two arts disciplines, 38 percent in three art forms, and 27 percent in all four arts disciplines (2007–08 report).
- Twenty-nine percent of high schools offered at least one three- or five-year sequence in the arts (2006–07 report).
- Forty-six percent of students in 2006–07 and 32 percent in 2007–08 exceeded the state requirements by completing three or more arts courses (2006–07; 2007–08 reports).
- Eighty-two percent of high schools had at least one certified arts teacher on staff (2006–07 report).
The following section takes a more in-depth look at the data for high schools in the two Annual Arts in Schools Reports issued to date. Specifically, it looks at the relationship between the data provided on the arts in schools and graduation rates at city high schools.
Review of the reports and data presented above raised additional questions pertaining to city high schools that fall outside the scope of this report but are worthy of further study. Specifically, how are schools without certified arts teachers on staff ensuring that the New York State Learning Standards, requirements, and guidelines are being met? To what degree are students meeting the requirements through the “credit recovery” process, whereby students are given credits that count toward graduation for special projects or work done in lieu of coursework? Also worth examining is the steep decline (33 percent year-over-year) in the number of graduates who completed three or more arts courses.
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