A Los Angeles Times story about the crunch that arts educators are facing with No Child Left Behind forcing all of the attention (and money) on raising math and reading scores cites Dallas as one of the few major school districts that is spending money to expand arts education.
The Times story reports that “A Center on Education Policy poll released this year showed that more than 40% of the districts surveyed have cut time in elementary schools for non-tested subjects, including art and music.”
Many school districts, DISD included, have tried to make up the widening curriculum/budget gap by jerry-rigging after-school programs or jobbing-in visiting artists to classrooms. It’s a patchwork approach that doesn’t work, argues Mike Blakeslee, deputy executive director of the National Assn. for Music Education: “Outside groups and after-school programs can’t replace daily efforts by certified teachers. Music is a discipline like any other. It needs ongoing, planned, sequential delivery. If the kids are only getting nominal exposure to music education, that’s frankly not enough.”
What the LATimes story touts is the Dallas Arts Learning Initiative, a multi-million dollar project announced more than a year ago. It involves DISD, the city of Dallas and the Dallas Public Library, as well as Big Thought, the non-profit arts agency formerly known as Young Audiences that sends artists into the classrooms. An $8 million grant from the Wallace Foundation (with more money leveraged through DISD) has more ambitious goals than simply touring artists. It includes hiring 140 new arts teachers over the next three years, insuring that each DISD student gets at least a weekly 45 minutes of art instruction and 45 minutes of music teaching. It also envisions developing 30 “hubs” in the neighborhoods to coordinate the different programs with parents — summer programs, after-school classes, library offerings.