Over the course of the past several years, big cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle have been advancing ambitious plans to expand access to arts education and creative learning for public school students. Here in New York City – home of the nation’s largest school district – with a new mayor and schools chancellor, and a growing chorus of parents calling for the inclusion of arts in the school day, there is momentum gathering that could lead to a much-overdue expansion of arts and music in city schools.
This December, at the close of his 12 years in office, New York City’s former Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law a City Council bill that would require the Department of Education to provide annual data on arts instruction that advocates believe will help identify gaps in the delivery of arts education and drive improvements in what is being offered at schools across the city.
While strides were made in expanding access to arts instruction at many schools across the city over the past decade, large gaps persist in the provision of music, dance, theater and visual arts in the over 1,800 New York City public schools.
That is why on the heels of the successful effort to pass the arts reporting legislation, advocates and leaders from a diverse cross section of New York, released a statement calling on the city to ensure that every child, in every part of the city, receives arts instruction as part of their K-12 education.
The statement – entitled “Every Child in Every School: A Vision for Arts and Creativity in New York City Public Schools” –notes that New York City – with its rich and diverse array of arts and cultural experiences and organizations – is uniquely positioned to be the leader in arts and creative education.
Highlighting that “research shows quality arts instruction can enhance cognitive and social abilities, improve academic performance and keep students engaged in school and on track to graduation,”
the statement calls for instruction in visual arts, dance, music, and theater by certified arts teachers, as well as partnerships with city arts and cultural institutions and adequate resources, supplies, instruments, facilities and technology at every school.
The effort is part of a sustained advocacy push that started this past spring to ensure arts education is a priority for the new administration. This latest effort has the broadest support – comprised of over 100 organizations both within and outside the arts and education spheres. The growing list of participating organizations range from those committed to ensuring the equitable delivery of arts in schools such as The Center for Arts Education, Urban Arts Partnership and Lincoln Center Education, to the civil rights-focused New York Civil Liberties Union, to social and economic justice organization Make the Road New York, to the labor union Associated Musicians of Greater New York – Local 802.
On the campaign trail this past fall, new Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to establish a four-year goal to make sure that every child in every school receives the arts education required by state law.
The new law passed in December, which will require specific reporting on whether or not individual schools are providing the state-mandated instruction in the arts, can help provide a roadmap to reach this goal.
The new administration could send a clear message to parents and school leaders about their commitment to providing equal access to a broad-based rigorous education by incorporating this information into the city’s school accountability system—along the lines of the creative school certification being implemented in Chicago.
The coalition stands poised to help the mayor deliver on his promise for New York City public school children.