Prepared Remarks of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on the Report, "Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 2009-10"

Miner Elementary School, Washington, DC, April 2, 2012

Contact:  
(202) 401-1576, press@ed.gov


Note: Speaker deviated from prepared remarks

I'm delighted to be back in a school, and have the chance to talk to students, teachers, and parents. I loved hearing the Miner Glee Club. What a great, arts-infused school!

Before we open up for a discussion and Q & A with our panelists, I want to talk briefly about our new survey and report on the status of arts education in America.

For several reasons, this survey marks an important milestone in arts education in our nation. It is the first survey in a decade that carefully documents the state of arts education in the United States.

It is the first survey that really allows us to compare changes in arts education over time, because the first comparable national survey of arts education in public schools was done in the 1999-2000 school year.

And this is the first survey that enables us to get a clear sense of how the No Child Left Behind law affected arts education and the provision of a well-rounded curriculum in our public schools.

I start from a simple presumption that I think most parents and teachers share. And that is that all students—100 percent—should have access to arts instruction. All children should have arts-rich schools.

Judged against that widely-shared standard, I think it is clear that our public schools have a long way to go before they are providing a rich and rigorous arts education to all students.

For a host of reasons, high-quality arts education is absolutely critical to providing all students with a world-class education.

The study of the arts can significantly boost student achievement, reduce discipline problems, and increase the odds that students will go on to graduate from college.

Arts education is also essential to stimulating the creativity and innovation that will prove critical to young Americans competing in a knowledge-based, global economy.

And the arts are valuable for their own sake. They empower students to create and appreciate aesthetic works. Creating by doing is a uniquely powerful way to learn.

I want to add that last, but not least, the arts are also fun. They give students a reason to look forward to coming to school. They give them the chance to be excited about Glee Club.

So, when I look at the big picture of the 2009-10 arts education survey, I see a good news-bad news story.

The good news is that the last decade has not generally produced a dramatic narrowing of the curriculum in the arts. There are several important exceptions to that pattern, which I'll talk about in a moment.

But it is encouraging that music is available in almost all elementary schools for at least some of the students, and that more than 80 percent of elementary schools have visual arts instruction. It's good news that there generally have not been significant declines in music and visual arts instruction.

But there is considerable bad news in today's report, too--and especially for disadvantaged students.

At more than 40 percent of our secondary schools, coursework in the arts was not a requirement for graduation in the 2009-10 school year. Our high schools are doing too little to incorporate the arts as an expectation and component of career and college readiness for all students.

The decline in dance and theatre opportunities in the last decade has also been dramatic. About one in five elementary schools offered dance or theatre a decade ago.

Today, only one out of every 33 elementary schools offers dance. And just one in 25 elementary schools offers theatre.

Those are big losses for our students. We know that dance provides a healthy and engaging outlet for students during what can be a long school day.

And we know that theatre can be an effective and creative way to support literacy and English language learning. Even at the secondary school level, more than 40 percent of all students do not have theatre instruction at their schools.

Our nation's students need a well-rounded education to succeed in the 21st century--and that should include engagement with the theatre arts.

It is deeply disturbing that all students do not have access to arts education today.

These survey findings suggest that more than 1.3 million students in elementary school fail today to get any music instruction--and the same is true for about 800,000 secondary school students. All told, nearly four million elementary school students do not get any visual arts instruction at school during their formative learning years.

That means those children are not learning to play the recorder. They are not learning to draw self-portraits. They are not learning to play in the band or sing in the Glee Club. They don't know what it means to take a role in the school play--or to put themselves in the shoes of another person who lived in a different time or place.

And unfortunately, the arts opportunity gap is widest for children in high-poverty schools. This is absolutely an equity issue and a civil rights issue--just as is access to AP courses and other educational opportunities.

I know that many arts educators continue to report that State departments of education often mistakenly turn down or discourage requests to use Title I funds for arts instruction.

In an August 2009 letter to school and education community leaders, I clarified that states and local school districts do have the flexibility to use Title I funds for arts education to improve achievement among disadvantaged students. And they can use Title II funds for professional development of arts teachers, or to support partnerships with cultural organizations, arts groups, and other non-profits.

I have clarified our position before. And I just want to reiterate today that Title I and Title II funds can and should be used to support arts education.

Now, the persistence of this arts opportunity gap is especially troubling for two reasons.

First, children from disadvantaged backgrounds, students who are English language learners, and students with disabilities often do not get the enrichment experiences of affluent students anywhere except at school.

And second, a considerable body of research suggests that disadvantaged students especially benefit from high-quality arts education--including an important new study from the National Endowment for the Arts on "The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth" that relies on robust, longitudinal data.

Low-income students who had arts-rich experiences in high schools were more than three times as likely to earn a B.A. as low-income students without those experiences. And the new study from the National Endowment reports that low-income high school students who earned few or no arts credits were five times more likely not to graduate from high school than low-income students who earned many arts credits.

And yet despite the importance of providing equal educational opportunities in the arts, today's report shows we are falling well short of that goal.

In the last decade, high poverty secondary schools suffered a big drop in music instruction. A decade ago, one hundred percent of high-poverty secondary schools offered music instruction. Only about 80 percent do so today.

And even when high-poverty secondary schools do offer music, they are offering a lot fewer opportunities to learn than in middle-class and affluent schools.

Only about a third of high-poverty secondary schools have five or more courses in music. By contrast, more than 60 percent of low-poverty schools offer at least five course options in music.

Opportunities in the visual arts are just as lopsided. Less than one-fourth of high-poverty secondary schools offer five or more visual arts courses, while more than half of low-poverty secondary schools do so.

That's one reason that we placed so much emphasis on the arts and humanities in our Promise Neighborhoods program, which supports community-based cradle-to-career initiatives to close the opportunity gap.

Research suggests that arts education not only boosts academic outcomes, but that neighborhood-based arts and cultural activities can build stronger cities and communities and boost civic engagement.

That's why we included a competitive priority for the arts and humanities in the Promise Neighborhood competition. In the most recent group of winners, three of five implementation grantees and seven of 15 planning grantees wrote to that priority.

The truth, though, is that as I look ahead, I am very concerned that states and districts are going to be under enormous budget pressure to cut back on arts education in the next few years.

Despite the brutal budget climate in the states and in Washington, arts education must not just survive but thrive. A well-rounded education is simply too vital to our students' success to let the teaching of the arts and humanities erode.

Some states and districts are leading the way in protecting and expanding arts instruction.

In Boston, under Mayor Thomas Menino's leadership, the city has formed a fantastic partnership with foundations and philanthropists to work toward the goal of providing high-quality arts education for all students as a core component of excellent schools.

Three years ago, Boston launched a $10 million public-private initiative to bolster arts education and it is producing big results. This year, 14,000 more Boston students are getting arts instruction than did in 2009. And twice as many high school students are accessing arts learning during the school day. Boston is helping lead the nation where we need to go. So, working collectively, let's follow their example.

Let's make sure that in statehouses, in district headquarters, in Washington DC, and in non-profit and corporate boardrooms that we continue to elevate, enrich, and expand arts education in our nation's schools.