It’s March. Do You know How Strong Your Schools’ Arts Programs Are?

The arts are an important part of a well-rounded education for all students. All of the arts – dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts – are essential to preparing our nation’s young people for a global economy fueled by innovation and creativity and for a social discourse that demands communication in images and sound as well as in text.

Secretary Duncan views student art

Secretary Duncan talks with students at one of the ED's frequent Student Art Exhibit Openings at the Department's headquarters.

The importance of arts education is celebrated each year during March through Dance in the Schools Month, Music in Our Schools Month, Theatre in Our Schools Month, and Youth Art Month. Throughout the country, student presentations in local communities will showcase how the arts infuse creativity and innovation into learning. The month also presents an opportunity to acknowledge the arts specialists who help students reach high standards in the arts, while also serving their school communities as “chief creative officers” who collaborate with classroom teachers to integrate the arts with other core subjects.

Research shows that arts-rich schools – ones that provide opportunities for students to experience the arts in deep and meaningful ways and to make curricular connections with math, science, and the humanities – are more engaging for students. As we strive to increase high school graduation rates and ensure that all students are college and career-ready, we know that students who attend arts-rich schools are more likely to stay in school and go on to graduate from college.

Let’s use this month to not only celebrate arts learning, but to also determine the health of our K-12 arts education programs. Where they need strengthening – and especially where they don’t currently exist – now is the time to make the arts a vital part of a complete education for all students.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education


  1. This was an enjoyable read and it places emphases on the key factors that the arts program in Memphis City Schools presents.

    Each year Memphis City Schools showcases how the arts infuse creativity and innovation into learning by presenting students’ artworks and dance in the Artsfest. Some work is shown here and

    As a classroom teacher, I strive to integrate the arts with other core subjects; allowing students to connect their journeys in education through cross curricular. Students begin to put the scattered pieces from each subject together….and it’s so wonderful to see the “lightbulb” come on.

    As the article states, “students who attend arts-rich schools are more likely to stay in school and go on to graduate from college”, parents and administrators should constantly be reminded of this.

  2. This is a nice gesture from the Secretary, but as long as educational priorities are determined by local boards beholden to standards-setters in state and federal governments, there will never be enough money or time to provide the level of arts education that our children need. Everyone seems to agree that the arts are important, but no one is willing to pay an extra $100 a year in property taxes to fund them. If the Secretary is serious about this, it’s time for an arts mandate that equals, at least, mandates for physical education and traditional academics.

  3. We are very proud of our new $12M facility completed in 2011 in Redding CA for the Redding School of the Arts! This is a Platinum LEED Charter school facility that helps to keep operating costs low so that budgets remain for the arts. From K-8th grades the kids take a daily music, art, and performace class and are still able to keep up with state standards for testing. They offer a Mandarin emmersion program and teach enviromental responsibility. I feel so blessed that my children get to experience the quality of education and hope to see arts as a priority in all public schools soon.

  4. STEM plus Arts= STEAM, an apt moniker for schools moving towards a future filled with innovative critical thinkers. Source: unknown. I wish I had thought of that one!

  5. I would like to see the arts funded at the same level that sports are. It seems that our schools have become athletic facilities that , oh by the way, also teach academics. And of course the academics are taught to the test so that the district looks good on paper, but what are we really giving to the children? My other pet peeve is how we have let the “push -down curriculum” drive our 4 and 5 year olds to handle full day kindergarten which is now a 1st grade curriculum. Devlopmentally appropriate practices? Teachers are no longer allowed to use these as they have to continually test, and assess the little ones until they are so stressed out that they end up not liking school (and I mean both kids and teachers)!

  6. While I do applaud the Department of Education for promoting arts education, I cannot help but think that these initiatives are largely pointless if funding is not committed to arts education. Because of recent economic troubles, schools across America have been cutting funding for arts programs. This is upsetting but certainly understandable; if schools must make budgetary cuts they will make them first in non-essential fields like the arts. But because funding for arts programs has disappeared on a state and municipal level, it must be committed on a federal level if these initiatives are to succeed. Secretary Duncan talks of the benefits of arts education, and it is hard to disagree with him. However, it is simply unrealistic to expect that arts education will continue across the nation if we do not make an explicit commitment to fund it.

  7. “The Arts” with the exception of band in 5th – 8th grades have been removed from the curriculum at all grade schools and Middle Schools in my area (Arizona). The grade school curriculum includes P.E. once or twice per week, depending on ‘specials’ which rotate with Library (They only check out a book, there is no interaction or story time) and computers – where they keyboard, and then play games.
    What is taught is Reading, Writing, and Math. Academics and Standardized Tests. HEAVY on the tests. Because we all must be cookie-cutter tested for NCLB-
    The Law requires the student is schooled until 8th grade.

    ARTS return to the curriculum in high school – YES, there is a large drop out rate.

  8. Have you ever considered using the arts to “teach to the test?” How can you incorporate movement, music and art while teaching the standards of English/Language Arts, Math, Social Studies and Science? We need to rethink our teaching practices to incorporate the arts in our content classrooms so that we don’t neglect them but students are still learning basic skills. It’s easy to complain but not to be innovative. It’s time to rethink our teaching strategies.

  9. Not only is arts integration “engaging,” but according to the report released by PCAH recently, it raises student achievement – making lower income students perform like their higher income counterparts. Let’s put our money where our mouth is and fund rich, rigorous arts programs for all children, including and especially for those in urban and at-risk areas!!

  10. I agree with the previous commenter that while it is important to promote the importance of the arts as a fundamental part of education, we need policies in order to support this idea, or else it will only remain an idea. Currently, legislation, such as No Child Left Behind, results in the phenomenon known as “teaching-to-the-test”, in which students are predominately taught what will appear on the test in order to have passing scores for federal grants, rather than achieving a well-rounded education and instilling intellectual curiosity and creativity. As a result, many art programs are deemed “trivial”, receive less funding, and, in some schools, are ultimately terminated. While topics such as math, science, reading and writing are essential to education, without alternative subjects, such as the arts, we lose the innovative and creative spirit that America is all about. Since the Department of Education recognizes this, I would advise policies that include the arts into testing, prevent the termination of arts programs, and/or provide funding to arts programs in order to truly put action behind their words.

  11. Well, this all sounds good, but I would like to see policies that backed up the verbiage. I am an art specialist in a county participating in the Race to the Top initiative. This initiative looks to me as though it might be the final nail in the coffin that destroys any effective arts programming. With its focus on core curriculum and test-based teacher evaluation, it appears that, rather than fostering rich arts experiences for our students, we, too, will now be focusing on preparing them to be evaluated. As a teacher in a primary school, I see the over-emphasis on evaluation (of both students and teachers) as absolutely deadly. In my school we are not inculcating a love of learning, though we certainly measure our little charges obsessively, and they do show progress as measured on tests and through computer-based assessments. However, what they are learning is that school is boring and hard, and they do not like school. This is heart-breaking and tragic. The policies coming from the department Mr. Duncan heads are driving this obsession with data, but the arts are not really compatible with numeric data. As Albert Einstein remarked: Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted. In our obsession with measuring, we have forgotten what really counts. Our country will pay a bitter price for this, I fear. Mr. Duncan’s fine-sounding words are only words. Show us policies that will support real learning, the kind you can’t measure with a check-list or a bubble-in sheet; the kind of learning that comes from passionate investigation and complete involvement–the kind of learning that happens in and through the arts!

Comments are closed.