Where Did the Art Teachers Go?

by Whitney Kimball on April 8, 2014 Newswire

Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Klein unveiling ArtsCount in 2007 (Image courtesy of NYC.gov)

Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Klein unveiling ArtsCount in 2007 (Image via: NYC.gov)

Twenty percent of New York public schools lack a certified arts teacher, according to a yesterday’s report on arts education from Scott Stringer. New York schools are required by law to offer arts instruction.

The report paints a picture of a quiet and systematic dismantling of arts education, under funding cuts and duress to fulfill teach-to-the-test funding requirements. According to the report, the lethal blow was dealt in 2007, when the spending policy Project Arts– which, at its peak in 2000-2001 spent $63/student on arts education– was replaced with ArtsCount, which, “was intended to create accountability for arts provision by incorporating arts metrics into a school’s performance for the first time.” ArtsCount promised to establish “first-ever accountability for arts programming” and signal “the importance of art to a student’s overall education.”

But ArtsCount was not funded. The report states that “without money or accountability, ArtsCount proved ineffective at ensuring that schools provided students with a robust education in the arts”.

It’s hard to tell whether or not that’s true, because ArtsCount’s annual detailed report “Arts in Schools” lacks a clear breakdown of spending within schools, often lumping all the arts together, and vaguely referencing “school-based art teachers”. Full-time teachers? Certified teachers? We also know that the city spent a lump sum of $323 million for “overall arts funding”, but there’s little information about how that was specifically distributed amongst different schools.

ArtsCount also stresses the importance of relying on outside “cultural organizations” to provide arts instruction. This could be consistent with Bloomberg’s streamlining strategy to shut down broken programs in order to drive innovative alternatives. But even a 2011 report from the Center for Education states that the city had even been cutting funds to hire outside cultural organizations to teach students. The ArtsCount report also lists the citywide arts budget as a relevant factor, which includes expenditures like $50 million for the ginormous Culture Shed, or $240 million for Lincoln Center.

Not only does Stringer’s report make it sound as though there was there no money explicitly promised through ArtsCount, but the DOE consciously decided to cut arts from the School Progress Report, its “central accountability metric”. According to the report, ArtsCount delivered the exact opposite of it promises for greater accountability, by eliminating any metrics for arts education at all.

Absent meaningful public, school-level data on arts spending, there has been virtually no way for parents and others to discern how much funding individual schools may be devoting to certified arts teachers, arts supplies or other basic components of arts education.

The result was a massive dip in arts spending in schools:

…DOE data indicate a 47 percent decline in schools’ spending on arts and cultural organizations that provide arts programming for students (from $25.7 million to $13.6 million), and an 84 percent decrease in spending on arts supplies, musical instruments and equipment (from $10.6 million to $1.7 million) between SY 2006-2007 and SY 2012-2013.23

Fewer teachers worked more jobs:

2,395 certified arts teachers served more than a million children across 1,700 schools in SY 2012-2013: 65 fewer teachers and 338 more schools than in SY 2006-2007.27

The poor had less:

More than 42 percent of schools that lack either full-time or part-time certified arts teachers are located in the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn.

And the High Line got $112.2 million.

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