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The Case for Arts in Education 

In 35 other states, and at the U.S. Department of Education, the arts are considered a core subject area -- but not in Louisiana. Our state requires public elementary schools to dedicate only minimal amounts of time each week teaching students any combination of music, arts, crafts and health. There are no minimum arts education requirements for students in public high schools. Moreover, public schools are not even required to have budgets for arts and music programs. Because individual school districts may fund arts education at their discretion, such programs often are the first to be cut when money gets tight.

It's time for that to end.

Louisiana lawmakers are pushing along a bill that would dramatically increase kids' exposure to visual and performing arts in public schools. Senate Bill 299 by state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome of Baton Rouge requires the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to develop and implement both visual and performing arts curricula in public schools, and it prescribes timelines for phasing in the new curricula. The timelines are critical, because they provide yardsticks by which to measure implementation. Broome's bill mandates the development of curriculum guides in the coming school year and the phasing in of Louisiana's "arts in education" program through the 2010-11 academic year. By then, our state would see full, statewide implementation of visual and performing arts curricula in all public schools in grades K-8, with high schools providing instruction according to BESE-developed guidelines. As the curricula are being developed, educators will consult with the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism as well as with professional artists.

The case for Broome's arts in education bill is a compelling one. Studies consistently show that students who are exposed to the arts for three hours a week in school are far more likely to succeed. Consider the following statistics for such students. They are:

• Four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement,

• Three times more likely to be elected to class office in school,

• Four times more likely to participate in a math or science fair,

• Three times more likely to win an award for school attendance, and

• Four times more likely to win an award for writing.Those are serious numbers. In addition, researchers have found that arts in education deter delinquent behavior, increase overall academic performance, level the "learning field" across socio-economic boundaries, build problem-solving and critical thinking skills, reduce dropout rates, increase aptitude in reading and math, and help dispel racial myths and misunderstandings. "Involvement in the arts is one avenue by which at-risk youth can acquire the various competencies necessary to become economically self-sufficient over the long term," says the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, a think tank for the nation's governors and their policymakers. At the high school level, students who have received four years of arts education out-perform their peers on the crucial SAT test, scoring an average 59 points higher on the verbal portion and 44 points higher on the math portion.

Art education is also a major "workforce builder" for the state of Louisiana, says Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, one of the leading proponents of Broome's bill. Louisiana's cultural industry employs the second largest workforce in the state. Arts education programs create and nurture a creative workforce for the future of that industry and provide audiences for our indigenous artists. Arts education also helps develop and expand markets within Louisiana's cultural economy. "This is a transformational piece of legislation," Landrieu told the Senate Education Committee, which approved the measure. "Ten or 20 years down the road, we will look back at this legislation as a milestone in our efforts to educate great citizens."

It is important to note that BESE supports this legislation. Other supporters include the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance, New Orleans music legends Terence Blanchard and Wynton Marsalis, the Southern Arts Federation, the Louisiana Partnership for the Arts, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) and the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts. "Arts education programs encourage imaginative thinking, creativity, a positive self-image, and respect for one's own cultural heritage," says Blanchard. "If we are to continue to produce the caliber of musician for which we are world-renowned, we must integrate visual and performing arts curriculum in the schools."

Marsalis adds a note that resonates across southeast Louisiana: "Now more than ever, we need art in Louisiana public schools. The state continues to hurt from Katrina, and our children need the healing that comes from active engagement in the arts."

Broome's bill cleared the Senate unanimously, and the House Education Committee likewise gave it unanimous approval. It was scheduled to be heard by the House Appropriations Committee on Monday (June 18). Lawmakers must adjourn by next Thursday (June 28), which does not leave much time for the most important measures to be considered. We urge House members to join their Senate counterparts by giving their unanimous approval to this far-reaching bill. The arts are an integral part of Louisiana's enduring culture. Our children deserve a chance to nurture and enrich that legacy.

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