Thursday, November 15, 2012

Arts education in Denver and low-income students.

Arts education and minority and lower-income students. In Denver it is a tale of two cities: one affluent and one not.

A study, the report of which was released in October, of the state of arts education in Denver Public Schools deals in part with the minimal participation and lack of opportunities for lower-income students in arts education and/or the ability to pursue a career in the arts. The study took a broader view of the state of arts education and much of what it found was not surprising – the state of arts education is not what it could be or should be. What I found particularly troubling however was the part of the report dealing with the availability to arts education for minority and low-income students.

The notes that the Denver School for the Arts (DSA) has a good program (it is considered the ‘gold standard’ for arts education), however participation from minority and low-income students is very limited.

“DSA currently serves a student population of 13% low-income students in contrast to Denver Public Schools overall low-income population of 73%” – from the report.

The reason in part is an inequality of access. DSA admissions are based on blind auditions. The problem is that students who want to attend are handicapped because they have not had enough training, much less quality training. Zip codes tell the tale. Admissions from schools west of I-25 are almost non-existent. The reality is that while arts education throughout DPS is not what it should be, particularly at the elementary- and middle-school level, more affluent parents can provide their children with private instruction and that can make the difference.

This is particularly acute with regard to music, orchestra and band.

This inequality not only hurts these students it hurts us as a community and may deprive the society at large of the next Pablo Picasso, or YoYo Ma, or Maya Angelou or even Madonna. Moreover the report also cites from James Catteral's study Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art, that low-income students at arts-rich high schools were more than twice as likely to earn a B.A as low-income students at arts-poor high schools

We know and the report also notes, that the arts have a significant impact on the economy. The Colorado Business Committee for the Arts, in its latest survey of the economic impact of the arts for instance stated that the economic impact of the arts in the Denver Metro region was $1.76 Billion 2011.

So not only do the arts have intrinsic value, they have tremendous economic value. For both those reasons and others, access to arts education should be universal and comprehensive and no socio-economic groups should be excluded.

The report has a quote that I love from the actor and former Director of the National Endowment for the Arts, Jane Alexander: “The young man who picks up a clarinet or even a paintbrush or a pen is not as likely to pick up a needle or a gun: he has better things to do.”

The study was done by A+ Denver, an independent, non-partisan 501 (c)(3) organization working to assist in improving student achievement in Denver Public Schools. The study was initiated by a task force of that organization, the Denver Quality Arts Task Force.

The report notes that some years ago, a commitment was made nationally to improve student performance in Math and Science and that is occurring. No such commitment currently exists with regard to arts education. It needs to. And that commitment must be implemented in every neighborhood regardless of zip code.

The full report is available here.

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