Rethinking and Strengthening Arts Education

Arts in Education Week

September 12th to 18th is Arts in Education Week. The Congressional designation of Arts in Education Week is an important reminder of the essential role that the arts play in the well-rounded education that all American students deserve.

“The arts can no longer be treated as a frill,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in his remarks before the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) this past April. In the Secretary’s Listening and Learning Tour in 2009, he heard from teachers and parents that the curriculum has narrowed, especially in schools with disproportionate numbers of disadvantaged students. This led Secretary Duncan to tell his AEP audience of arts, education, government and philanthropic leaders that it is “the time to rethink and strengthen arts education.”

Arts in Education Week

Rethinking it begins with acknowledging the powerful role that regular academic experiences in the arts has for students, particularly economically disadvantaged students, in ways that transcend their accomplishments in the art studio or concert hall. A recent analysis [PDF, 158K] of data from the National Educational Longitudinal Survey (NELS:88) conducted by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles points to significant connections between high involvement in arts learning and general academic achievement. The study tracked students from eighth grade through their twenties and found that “arts-engaged” students from low-income families demonstrated greater college-ongoing rates and better grades in college. As an example, low-income students from arts-rich high schools were more than twice as likely to earn a B.A. as low-income students from arts-poor high schools.

Arts in Education Week

Moreover, the UCLA researchers found the students engaged in the arts were more likely to be employed in jobs with potential career growth and more involved in volunteerism and the political life of their communities. “These are big effects … [that] we would like to see more schools replicate,” says Secretary Duncan.

But we must strengthen the arts in all schools, not only to replicate the advantages in life and careers that the arts provide, but principally for the knowledge and skills that the arts uniquely embody as academic disciplines and that they impart on developing minds, bodies, and personalities. At the heart of a solid education in the arts are the appreciation of beauty and the aesthetic qualities of our lives and society; the ability to communicate the ineffable through images, music and movement; and the appreciation of diverse cultural expressions.

Arts in Education Week

In celebration of Arts in Education Week, the Arts Education Partnership is offering up-to-date information on actions that it and hundreds of schools, associations, and others are doing to heighten awareness of the importance of arts education. Our schools need to rethink and strengthen arts education. All our children need and deserve nothing less.

What is your school or district doing to rethink and/or strengthen arts education? Please share your comments below.

Doug Herbert
Office of Innovation and Improvement


  1. Dallas, Texas is working on a citywide scale to change the educational climate into one that supports children at home, at school and in their communities. The city and its services (libraries, park & recreation centers, etc.), the public school system and hundreds of nonprofits have come together in a public/private partnership to invest in education. What makes this collaboration so unique is a commitment to creativity, imagination and arts education which has resulted in some of the most progressive arts policies of any large, urban city.

    For more information, please visit:

  2. Our facility is home to 85 consumers who have varying physical and mental deficits. Our Arts Program has consistently provided an avenue in which to engage students with their environment. They seem to come alive through music; they encounter new tactile experiences through making and touching objects; oftentimes foods accompany, compliment and enhance the art theme; art projects bring employee & consumer together on a new and different level. Our Art Coordinator frequently utilizes recycled products which enhances creativity on numerous levels.

  3. I teach at Hawaii’s only whole school, whole child arts integrated public school. We believe in whole child education through 21st century learning in the arts and technology. Our teachers are willing to do the hard work, inspiring work, challenging work of integrating the arts across the curriculum. We’ve provided professional development in drama, visual arts, dance, creative writing, and music for our teachers school-wide, supported throughout the year through professional learning communities, coaching, and model teaching so our teachers can continue to grow and learn in arts integration. Our students (and teachers) actively participate in 6-8 week residencies with Maui’s teaching artists in drama, dance, visual arts, literary arts, and music. We study our effectiveness by collecting a variety of data, analyzing them, then reporting to our school, our state, and nationally at the Kennedy Center in DC. Our partnerships with the Maui Arts and Cultural Center and Hawaii’s Arts First Partners are essential to our work. Quality classroom teachers and quality teaching artists working together to create a rich and joyful learning environment! Our school has an open doors policy…we hope to continue to share our practices in hope that other schools will be inspired to transform their schools too!

  4. I am a teacher from a small rural school in Arizona, involved with Karen and Paul in the Southeastern Arizona Arts in Academics(SAAA). We are in our third year of working with this program which brings Artists in Residence to our school for 3-4 weeks at a time and also provides extensive professional development for the teachers. As a result of this program the Arts are being completely integrated into our academic curriculum. We have seen the difference that learning art in many forms can make to a child. We can track our students and see these benefits continue into highschool. There is no doubt in my mind that our students need art just as much as they need any academic subject.

  5. As a visual arts teacher of grades 7-12 in a small town in Indiana and the mother of two children who have successful careers in art related fields. I often wonder why when educators cite the reasons to have strong art education programs in their schools that they always seem to overlook the fact that there are hundreds of art related career opportunities for qualified students. Even despite the economy it is still one of the fastest growing career opportunities in America. Doing away with the arts programs in the schools would be like closing doors in the faces of some of our student population who are very gifted in this area and need the opportunity to acquire the necessary skills and portfolios to qualify for these art related opportunities. Leah, Like you just posted: “Qualified art education specialist are indeed the key to success in the arts.”

  6. Our students live in a very small and isolated community. The SAAA grant brought the world to their front door. Students are finding the best in themselves and sharing it with others through the atrs.

  7. A most rewarding experience is to be able to bring the classroom teachers closer to their students in an art/s class. As a colleague and educator, you can see their efforts and encourage them to follow their creativity and explore their new challenges of the days assignment. The classroom teacher gets to bond with their students by simply leveling the playing field, being human beings alongside their students, earning a newfound respect for the craft itself, their students abilities and strengths as well as their own creativity. I believe it is so important we bring back the humanity in the classroom. As an art teacher, I have had the privilege to instruct the teacher alongside their students. I witnessed throughout the school year a growing admiration between the teacher and her students. She got to see how her students were blooming in the art class and earn a newfound respect from the students. The students appreciated that their homeroom teacher took the time out of their planning schedule to enjoy and explore their creativity alongside of them.

  8. The comments made by the 25 posts before me were good. There is no substitute at any school for qualified art education specialists. The arts should be taught at all public school levels including elementary, middle, and high schools. Peripherals arts experiences, after school experiences, field trips, grants and other such art experiences are not a match for a curriculum that is infused with the arts and also has the arts as a subject of study. “Qualified” art education specialists are keys to success in the arts. Students who are talented or have a high interest in the arts should not be relegated to sitting in the back of the educational bus while students good in math, science, or other subjects seen as “core” sit in the front benefiting from funding and receiving instruction from highly qualified educators. Let’s not relegate students who have potential or wish an education in the arts to sit in the back of the educational bus.

  9. The visual arts have been around since the beginning of time. When students/citizens look at art through the ages, no matter what the culture, it gives vast insights into not just when and what, but why and how people lived.

    Teaching visual art, particularly art in public places, is engaging students in understanding their community, their place in the world. This is not only basic knowledge, it’s essential, to a good education.

  10. In our small community school system, we have arts (general music (k-6), visual arts k-12) and band (6-12) at every level. I teach in the intermediate and junior high art and music area, and stress to students how the state and national standards represent increasingly sophisticated arts values we hold important in our state and nation. We have art shows annually (6-12) and exhibit during Youth Art Month at our local gallery. Band is big here, and our school has made us proud at the state level.

  11. The Right Brain Initiative, based in Portland, OR is a public-private K-8 arts education partnership working with four school districts in our metropolitan area. We’re managed by the Regional Arts & Culture Council, and are designed to be a long-term solution, counteracting the districts’ funding crises that have led to major cuts in arts programming. We aim to ensure that ALL students in our region have access to high quality arts experiences that reinforces naturally connect to other curricular areas. This summer, we built a traveling exhibit into an 8×16′ storage container, showcasing our work with students. In honor of arts education advocacy this week, we parked the exhibit outside the Portland Public Schools’ primary administration building, in conjunction with a presentation we made to the school board on Monday. Tuesday, we took the exhibit to the Portland Children’s Museum (one of over 50 Right Brain arts providers), where it will be on view to thousands of visitors through October 3. By educating and building support from the community and our partners, we believe we can grow to serve more schools.

    You can read more our Arts in Education Week activities in our press release:
    And read more about our program at:
    Read about our traveling exhibit on our blog:

  12. I’ve just graduated high school in Florida, and our school was absolutely changed by our arts department. Our school as a whole was a “D” school (if you’re not familiar with this system of grading a school, it’s much the same as when a student gets a grade on a paper, with more serious consequences for those who fail), but our arts department continuously ranked an “A”. I was very involved in the chorus department, and I saw tens of students every year who would have dropped out or simply never come to any of their classes if it weren’t for that music class every day. It was a safe have; a place where you didn’t need to be smart to succeed, and for many students with family troubles, it was the only place in or out of school where they felt accepted and looked after.

  13. Our elementary school has a sequential art program for students k-6 focused on art history and aesthetics as well as production. Students learn from textbooks, technology, and hands on projects. Many lessons are interdisciplinary, focusing on math standards. Geometry is an integral part of art. Concepts from language arts, science and math are naturally incorporated into the learning process as students produce unique and creative art. This foundation of knowledge continues into the high school curriculum. Our school has a history of preparing students for art careers. Every graduating class has produced students who are successful in various fields of art.

  14. At the Grand Rapids Symphony (MI) we strongly believe that we play an essential role in supporting and enhancing the work of our colleagues in the schools. Especially today, with upside-down priorities for education and increasing financial pressures, we know that the programs and services we offer are quickly becoming the only access to quality arts programming and instruction for far too many in our area. This week, our musicians will present 97 performances in 33 elementary schools, for nearly 11,000 students. But this answers only a small sliver of the need. We can’t be in every school, every day. Without sustained instruction in the schools, the future is more uncertain than ever. Actions, not declarations, are needed from our leaders to ensure that every student has access to integrated arts every week of every year.

  15. I am an elementary, visual, art teacher in Indiana. My district prides itself in teaching at the highest level. The arts would no more be removed from the curriculum than math! Removing the arts from education is like amputating a limb from a human. All education is for the soul. Who would do that?

  16. Idea: art enfused high school. It works! All teachers are asked to enfuse art in 3 of their lessons per semester. It really works and ties the arts into meaningful lessons throughout the curriculum.

  17. Washoe County School District in Reno, Nevada, received at PDAE in fall 2009. By the start of the 2010, the five schools included in the grant were poised and ready to begin. Teachers in four elementary schools and one middle school received interventions in music through a program called Mindful Music, a program for which provides teachers with a natural tool to enhanced students’ understanding of language development, vocabulary, and speaking fluency. Overall, Mindful Music provides educators with tools to teach required curriculum more efficiently and effectively by reaching students, especially LEP students, with structures to become stronger in language acquisition and academic background knowledge. Teachers also had opportunities to participate in after-school art academies that integrate English Language Arts (ELA), science, social studies, and mathematics with one of the arts – visual arts, dance, and theater. Another intervention was Artists in Residencies, where an art specialist works along with a teacher for a five-week session in the teacher’s classroom, modeling and providing strategies for art integration into academic areas. Teachers also had an opportunity to participate in one of the art boxes, a daylong session scheduled on a Saturday where an artist used a set of materials to help teachers integrate an art into a content area (e.g., Desert Science, Cartoon drawings). What was the response of the teachers? Overwhelmingly enthusiastic. “I have attended several workshops now and now I can say that this experience has made for me and my students.” “I have learned new ways to present information to my students – ways that are engaging and interesting and my students are responding with great enthusiasm.” “It makes me more comfortable to use art in my classroom and find new ways to integrate it into math, science, and reading.” And to sum it up, Joan wrote, “Overall, this was a very enjoyable class. I learned a lot of great techniques that I will definitely incorporate into my teaching. It’s nice to have a class where we have the time to work on activities, so we can have an end product to incorporate into our classrooms as a model for our students.” We are now in year two and already, we have added two more elementary schools. Who is selling this program for us? Last year’s teachers, of course. To learn more about WCSD PDAE success story, contact

  18. The Higley Unified School District, in Gilbert, Arizona, has a performing arts center. We are hosting the first Mayor’s Breakfast with the Arts, with Mayor Lewis of Gilbert and showcasing “arts through the years.” Students from our K-8 schools, high schools and community college will perform. A tap group from a retired community in our boundaries will also perform. Nominations for community awards recognizing individuals and organizations who have contributed to the arts have been reviewed and awards will be presented at the breakfast on October 5. We are working collaboratively with Gilbert’s Chamber of Commerce and the Mayor’s staff on this event. Miss Arizona’s outstanding teen, Elizabeth Stolper, whose platform is arts education, will perform and speak and a representative from the educational staff of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Perfoming Arts in Washington, DC will address the attendees as well. We are looking forward to this exciting event!

  19. As the music specialist in the Southeast Arizona Arts in Academics program, I have seen so many examples of students who had never spoken suddenly starting to speak and participate, having a hearing disabled/developmentally delayed student suddenly say “I want the big drum”, as well as observing high achievers analyze music examples, synthesize pieces from various academic lessons and put them together in written/ musical/ visual forms that it becomes just another amazing day in arts integration. Would that all teachers and students could experience teaching and learning this way!

    We have all poured our hearts and our skills into this project, and we have been rewarded by the students’ true engagement and accelerated accomplishments, both in arts and academics.

    I would say one thing, though, that is really important in these situations: small class size. There is no substitute for the informality and interactions one can have in these rural settings.

  20. The students here at Double Adobe have been privileged to have the artists from the SAAA grant at their school for the past two years. We are starting our third year.
    The students have done music, dance, drama, and art with professional people from the art world. I have seen growth in our students academically and socially since we started with the grant. There are things I see that there is no measure for such as the confidence to stand before the class and speak ones thoughts in a more clear and definite way. Also, just feeling good about who you are is a real plus. Being exposed to people from the “outside” is good for all of us and I know I have grown as a teacher.

  21. LeAp (Learning through an Extended Arts Program) strongly supports the idea that the arts are essential to every child’s education. LeAp integrates music, art, dance, and drama into the instruction of the core curriculum in over 300 New York City public schools.

    Currently, LeAp and Citicorp are hosting an art exhibit at Citicorp’s headquarters in Queens. The exhibition running thru October 26th highlights students work from ALLL K-2 – Active Learning Leads to Literacy and federally funded ALLL 3-5 – Arts Learning Leads to Literacy’s as well as Kandinski’s and Tibetan Mandalas from LeAp’s afterschool programs, and musical instruments from our federally funded Charter school Professional Development grants to name a few. Results from an independent New York University study show that ALLL K-2 and ALLL 3-5 increase student performance on ECLAS and NYState ELA tests. The program is particularly effective with ELL, special needs, and the gifted. According to NYU’s longitudinal study, ALLL has helped over 30,000 economically disadvantaged students become successful readers and proficient writers – far outperforming their peers. ALLL’s hands-on, artsbased teaching strategies have proven to help ALLL’s K-2 and 3-5 students show up to an 18% greater improvement on their literacy test scores than their peers and continue to excel in later grades!

    To learn more about ALLL K-2, ALLL 3-5 and ALLL 6-8 visit or contact

  22. VSA Massachusetts is working with the Boston Public Schools to promote arts integrated instruction as a tool for accomplishing Universal Design for Learning. Teachers have access to graduate level instruction and support from teaching artists in the classroom as well as coaching through a community of practice.

    UDL focuses on anticipating barriers to learning and designing instruction that offers multiple means of representing information, expressing understand and engaging students. Our work emphasizes accomplishing standards based goals in arts learning as well as learning in other curricular areas, inclusion of students with disabilities and demonstrating the learning accomplished to parents and the broader community.

    Case Studies at:

  23. The Southeastern Arizona Arts in Academics (SAAA) project is a U.S. Department of Education PDAE grant. The project is designed to be a model professional development project for teaching arts integration in isolated rural schools. It is a synthesis of pedagogies, research and best practices in which the teachers, artists and school leadership adopt new shared goals to achieve an art driven integrated teaching and learning environment. The core curriculum and arts standards are learned and embraced as a whole. We have realized goals beyond our expectations within the curriculum, but with unexpected and positive community support.

    The SAAA project is a consortium of 7 rural schools in Southeastern Arizona: Ash Creek School (K – 8) and Double Adobe Elementary (K – 6) are located in the Sulphur Springs Valley, a vast ranching and farming area. Ft. Thomas Elementary
    (K – 6) and Ft. Thomas High School (9 – 12) are located at the edge of the Apache reservation and populated by over 90% Apache decent students who live on or near the reservation in the Gila Valley farming basin which is adjacent to the Gila River Wilderness Area. Mount Turnbull Academy (9 – 12) is a charter school on the Apache Reservation. Willcox Elementary (K – 5) and Willcox Middle School (6 – 8) are in a farming and ranching community and the schools service a large migrant worker population. These schools are located in two counties (Cochise & Graham) in the southeastern corner of Arizona. Mt. Turnbull Academy (the northern most site) is approximately 3 ½ hours from Double Adobe (the southern most site). These schools are located in what is known as the “open drug corridor” of the United States. The area is miles and miles of open space. The “population centers” tend to be around the schools. Poverty, substance abuse, and the lack of infrastructure, social, cultural and other urban or metropolitan services are also characteristics of the area. Defining these sites are the small staff who play multiple roles. For example, the Principal at Double Adobe School, teaches 3rd and 4th grade and the Director of Special Education at Ash Creek School is the 3rd, 4th, & 5th grade teacher.

  24. I am a theatre artist working with Southeastern Arizona Arts in Academics (SAAA). Over the past two years we have been working in rural, border and reservation schools. We are an Arts Integration program collaborating with classroom teachers to develop sustainable practices that will enrich the schools after we have departed. Often the students go from reluctance to full blown enthusiasm. They progress from mumbling to clear enunciation, facing the audience and producing their own work. All outcomes are based in the curriculum and are connected to what the students are studying at the time that the artist is present. We have performed Physics, Literature, Social Studies, Drug Prevention, Media Arts, Science, Mythology (and more!). There is no better way to create joy in learning, to connect the students to their curriculum and engender a love of education.

  25. I think we need to remember that participating in one performance and having the arts fully immersed into the curriculum are two very different things. The former, is not arts in education and is just a small participatory experience. While valid, that is not the strategy we need to use in order to make a real difference in the learning that takes place.

  26. We are a K-5 elementary school in the Glendale Unified School District. Our school foundation raises $35,000 each year to provide weekly arts instruction in all of our 36 classrooms in each of the four art disciplines: Visual arts, dance, theatre, and music. These weekly lessons are all done during the instructional school day. We have a dedicated bungalow that houses our visual arts studio, and two classroom spaces for music, dance, improvisation and theatre instruction. We have professional artists, retired teachers, and parents who have been trained in each discipline teaching our classes. This summer we partnered up with the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and over 12 of our staff members were trained in design-based learning with Dr. Doreen Nelson. We love the arts and are looking forward to increasing our partnerships and staff development as we integrate more of the visual and performing arts into core curriculum to enhance learning for all our 880 students!

  27. It pays to go back to schools where you have developed a good reputation. The students at my Cayuga Elementary School have been asked to perform the “Hokey Pokey” song at the Back-to-School night on September 23rd. This is by far the most ambitious challenge these students have had yet. They will only have one rehearsal for this show!

  28. Pasadena Unified School District in Pasadena, CA, collaborates with the Armory Center for the Arts on a PDAE-funded project called the Artist-Teacher Collaborative. A central goal of this program is to provide sustained, rigorous professional development to PUSD teachers, instilling in them the skills and knowledge needed to deliver standards-based instruction in the visual arts to diverse student populations. The program utilizes the “coaching model,” in which the Armory’s Teaching Artists work side-by-side with PUSD elementary teachers over a 12-week period. Our evaluation results so far have demonstrated that the program has truly improved teachers’ confidence in and ability to effectively teach the arts.

  29. With funding from an Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination Grant, Beth Olshansky and Donna Papanikolau at the Webster Elementary School in Manchester, NH developed an Image-Making life stories unit in which refugee and immigrant students had the opportunity to record the story of their family’s journey from their country of origin to the United States in pictures first and then in words. This Image-Making project began with the students first creating their own portfolio of hand-painted papers using a variety of simple art techniques such as watercolor and salt, plastic wrap prints, and crayon resist rubbings. Students then used their own colorful textured papers as the raw materials to literally reconstruct their own family story using collage as a medium. For these students, many of whom came directly from refugee camps, from war-torn countries, or from troubled family situations, the opportunity to reconstruct their own story in pictures first and then learn the English words to tell their story became not only a very engaging and effective literacy method, but also a very meaningful and therapeutic experience. Using the universal language of pictures first (pictures created using their very own hand-painted papers), students were able to process very challenging life situations and share them in a way that was empowering. The students’ collage stories were typed and with their colorful collage images, bound into “published book” form. At the end of the Image-Making life stories project, students received their very own beautifully published book that they created with their very own hands. The students’ pride was palpable.

  30. Shelby County Schools (Memphis, TN) is in the first year of a three-year U.S. Department of Education PDAE grant project focusing on arts infusion. Teachers from 10 elementary and middle schools are receiving sustained, intensive professional development in an effort to infuse the arts throughout the whole school curriculum.

    While still in the early stages of professional learning, teachers participating in the project are beginning to teach subjects such as reading/language arts and math through what Dr. Nan McDonald, author of “Handbook for K-8 Arts Integration,” calls “purposeful planning across the curriculum.” Examples include a 4th grade teacher using art and music to make connections in a social studies lesson, or a 5th grade teacher using the art of Piet Mondrian to teach decimal place values in math.

    Administrators, teachers, students and parents at our arts infusion schools are seeing the effect the arts have on student achievement, school climate and teacher collaboration. For more information on the Shelby County Schools Arts Infusion Project, please visit our web site:

  31. While I think the work you do, Erich, is highly valuable, a poster contest is the furthest thing from a real arts education. It is not sequential, nor standards-based.

  32. This is a school in California that is including the Arts as part of it’s “Multiple Intelligence” curriculum, originated by Howard Gardner. They have used this program for over five years and have proven academic success! They have started a new school this year with lots of enthusiastic kids and parents! The program works and should be continued in other schools!

  33. Our high school participates in SECME, a national supplemental program that promotes academic achievement in Science, Engineering, Communication and Mathematics Education for historically underrepresented students. But it is open to any and all students who want to participate in hands-on activities and project based learning. For more information, please visit

    The annual banner competition blends the communication arts and mathematics in SECME. Students create banners based on the Olympiad’s theme, with our school mascot and the SECME logo. But before our students can create on canvas with colors, they first brainstorm on sketch paper with pencil.

    Competition guidelines require banners cannot exceed a maximum of 72 inches wide and 36 inches high. So to doodle a draft of proportional size on paper 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches requires similarity and scaling to enlarge any picture. Ten by 5 inches is proportional at 1:5 scale to our banner dimensions of 70 by 35 inches.

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