NYC Lagging on School Arts Education

April 7, 2014 Updated: October 8, 2018

NEW YORK—Peggy Washington’s family is living proof that arts education matters. She’s a singer, just as her mother was. Her son recently won an Emmy for his work at CUNY TV.

Washington used every opportunity to put her three children in touch with the arts, including bringing her son to cultural events at the Juilliard School, where he later attended and graduated. But what about families that don’t have the time or the awareness?

Washington’s answer is easy, “Bring [arts education] to school.”

According to state law, every student in seventh and eighth grades must receive music and visual arts classes from a qualified teacher.

Yet 22 percent of the city middle schools don’t have a full-time certified arts teacher and 13 percent don’t have a certified arts teacher at all, according to a report released Monday by City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer also found out over 42 percent of schools without certified arts teachers are in the lowest-income neighborhoods of South Bronx and Central Brooklyn.

“It’s not a pretty picture,” Stringer said. “Arts education is no longer just about finger painting. This is about giving today’s students the hands-on skills they will need to compete in today’s marketplace, one that increasingly values creativity, working together, and a capacity to bring big projects to life.”

Schools used to have a dedicated budget for art teachers, equipment, and partnerships with arts and cultural services. But starting in 2002 the budget got cut and then, in 2007, it was dissolved into the general school budget.

The report argues the city cut the budget to focus more on English and math instruction, because President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act required annual improvement on math and English standardized tests.

“We have spent so much time teaching to the test, we forgot about what it’s like to have a well rounded education,” Stringer said.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in response to the report’s findings the Education Department will be doing “a lot of extra work” on bringing arts to schools. She would like to have every middle school partnering with some cultural institution.

“It’s been many years of focus on certain other subject areas. But the arts, to me … it’s sometimes what brings the kids to school,” Fariña said at a Monday press conference.

To put a certified arts teacher into every school that doesn’t have one would cost $26 million a year, according to Stringer. He’d like to see the funds in the city budget.

The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for a comment.

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