The Los Angeles Times reports that arts education has been shortchanged in the Los Angeles Unified School District in recent years, even as the district leadership was pouring millions of dollars into testing, test-prep, and technology. Former superintendent John Deasy was willing to allocate $1.3 Billion to buy iPads for Common Core testing, but at the same time, many schools across the district had no arts teachers.
Under the philosophy that test scores are the only measure that matters, that low scores lead to school closures, the district neglected the arts.
Normandie Avenue Elementary Principal Gustavo Ortiz worries that he can’t provide arts classes for most of the 900 students at his South Los Angeles school.
Not a single art or music class was offered until this year at Curtiss Middle School in Carson.
At Carlos Santana Arts Academy in North Hills, a campus abuzz with visual and performing arts, the principal has gone outside the school district for help. A former professional dancer, she has tapped industry connections and persuaded friends to teach ballroom dancing and other classes without pay until she could reimburse them.
Budget cuts and a narrow focus on subjects that are measured on standardized tests have contributed to a vast reduction of public school arts programs across the country. The deterioration has been particularly jarring in Los Angeles, the epicenter of the entertainment industry.
The Los Angeles Unified School District is discovering the extent of those cuts as it seeks to regain the vibrancy that once made it a leader in arts education. For the first time, L.A. Unified in September completed a detailed accounting of arts programs at its campuses that shows stark disparities in class offerings, the number of teachers and help provided by outside groups.
Arts programs at a vast majority of schools are inadequate, according to district data. Classrooms lack basic supplies. Some orchestra classes don’t have enough instruments. And thousands of elementary and middle school children are not getting any arts instruction.
A Los Angeles Times analysis that used L.A. Unified’s data to assign letter grades to arts programs shows that only 35 out of more than 700 schools would get an “A.” Those high-performing schools offered additional instruction through community donations, had more teachers and a greater variety of arts programs than most of the district’s campuses.
State policy is strong in support of arts education, but LAUSD doesn’t have the money to support the arts. Instead, the money has been spent on testing and implementing the Common Core.
Eight out of every 10 elementary schools does not meet state standards in the arts. The students least likely to engage in the arts are in the high-needs, low-income schools. In schools where there are parents with resources and contacts, they are able to supplement what the school does not provide.
Only four elementary schools — West Vernon, Magnolia, Bonita Street and 49th Street Elementary — had an arts teacher five days a week, according to district data.
“I feel real guilty because my kids go to schools where an art teacher and a music teacher are there five days a week,” said Ortiz, who pointed to Normandie’s limited budget. “I come here and I can’t give the kids what my own kids get. It just tears me up. It’s such an inequity.”
Arts education was not meant to be a luxury in California.
State law requires that schools provide music, art, theater and dance at every grade level. But few districts across the state live up to the requirement.
According to a story in the Wall Street Journal today, the state has allocated $4.8 Billion to the implementation of the Common Core standards and testing. This is a matter of priorities: What matters most: The joy of learning or standardized test scores?
It is ironic that billionaire Eli Broad, who just opened a new museum to house his own collection, wants to spend $490 million to open 260 new charter schools, but can’t find it in his heart to subsidize the arts in the schools of his adopted city.
Which will matter more to these children? The joy of performance, the discipline of practice, the love of engagement promoted by the arts or taking the Common Core tests that most will fail again and again?