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Executive Summary

In New York City, the cultural capital of the world, public school students do not enjoy equal access to an arts education. In fact, in schools with the lowest graduation rates—where the arts could have the greatest impact—students have the least opportunity to participate in arts learning.

This report takes the first ever look at the relationship between school-based arts education and high school graduation rates in New York City public schools. The findings, based on data collected by the New York City Department of Education (DOE), strongly suggest that the arts play a key role in keeping students in high school and graduating on time.

In several national studies over the past decade, students at risk of dropping out cite participation in the arts as their reason for staying in school.

The failure of public high schools to graduate students in four years has been a persistent problem in New York City and is a central concern for educators and policymakers across the nation. Once the worldwide leader in education, the United States is falling behind other countries in a number of educational categories, none of which is more troubling than high school graduation rates.

In several national studies over the past decade, students at risk of dropping out cite participation in the arts as their reason for staying in school.1 Research has also shown that arts education has had a measurable impact on at-risk youth in deterring delinquent behavior and truancy problems while also increasing overall academic performance.2 Despite these known benefits, as the findings of this report confirm, New York City public school students at schools with the lowest graduation rates have the least access to instruction in the arts.

Analyzing data from more than 200 New York City schools over a two-year period, this report shows that schools in the top third in graduation rates offered their students the most access to arts education and the most resources that support arts education.3 Schools in the bottom third in graduation rates consistently offer the least access and fewest resources. This pattern held true for nine key indicators that convey a school’s commitment to arts education. The findings are summarized below.

Summary of Findings
Certified Arts Teachers

High schools in the top third of graduation rates had almost 40 percent more certified arts teachers per student than schools in the bottom third—or, on average, one additional arts teacher per school.

Dedicated Arts Classrooms

High schools in the top third of graduation rates had 40 percent more physical spaces dedicated to arts learning per student than schools in the bottom third.

Appropriately Equipped Arts Classrooms

High schools in the top third of graduation rates had almost 40 percent more classrooms appropriately equipped for the arts than schools in the bottom third.

Arts and Cultural Partnerships

High schools in the top third of graduation rates had fostered 25 percent more partnerships with arts and cultural organizations than schools in the bottom third.

External Funds to Support the Arts

High schools in the top third of graduation rates were 45 percent more likely to have raised funds from external sources to support the arts than schools in the bottom third.

Coursework in the Arts

High schools in the top third of graduation rates had almost 35 percent more graduates completing three or more arts courses than schools in the bottom third.

Access to Multiyear Arts Sequence

High schools in the top third of graduation rates were almost 10 percent more likely to offer students a multiyear sequence in the arts than schools in the bottom third.

School Sponsorship of Student Arts Participation

High schools in the top third of graduation rates were more likely to have offered students an opportunity to participate or perform in one or more arts activities than schools in the bottom third.

School Sponsorship of Arts Field Trips

High schools in the top third of graduation rates were more likely to have offered students an opportunity to attend an arts activity, such as a theater performance, dance recital, or museum exhibit, than schools in the bottom third.

These findings suggest that increasing students’ access to arts instruction in schools with low graduation rates can be a successful strategy for lifting graduation rates and turning around struggling schools, not just in New York City, but nationwide.

And while the central focus of the report is arts education at the high school level, the benefits that participating in arts learning imparts to students are just as pronounced in the lower grades. In fact, for students to benefit fully from high school arts instruction, it is critical that they acquire the increased level of knowledge and understanding that comes with coursework in earlier grades.

Thirteen years ago, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) established a set of rigorous learning standards and regulations that confirms the value of instruction in the arts—music, dance, theater, and visual art—for all students, K through 12.

According to data provided in the New York City Department of Education’s Annual Arts in Schools Reports,4 however, the great majority of schools in New York City are out of compliance with these state mandates—in fact, only 8 percent of elementary schools and less than half of middle schools make the grade.

This study also points to unequal access to arts education in city high schools based on socioeconomic background, race, or ethnicity. Schools with the lowest graduation rates had a higher percentage of poor, black, and Latino students than schools with the highest graduation rates. This secondary association could be an indication of an inequitable system that sustains educational and income disparities and is worthy of further study.

Our analysis, which associates arts education and graduation rates by school rather than by individuals, buttresses our ongoing argument that arts education is an essential component of K through 12 public school education. The recommendations in this report reflect our vision of quality arts education for all students and the glaring need to address the deficiencies and inequities that exist throughout the system.

In addition to calling on high school principals to expand course offerings in all four arts disciplines so that students can at least meet the minimum graduation requirements, the report urges the New York State Education Department to ensure compliance with the state standards and regulations currently in place.

The recommendations also call for the city to restore Project Arts, a policy initiative created in 1997 that guaranteed a minimum amount of funding for arts education in every school. Restoring this initiative could once again serve to catalyze the hiring of certified arts teachers at schools, the purchasing of instruments and supplies, and the fostering of arts education partnerships with the city’s rich array of arts and cultural organizations at all schools.

These and other key arts-friendly policies summarized on the following page and presented in detail in the Recommendations section can help ensure greater access to an arts education for New York City public school students and play a key role in addressing the city’s graduation crisis.

Summary of Recommendations
Expand Course Offerings in the Arts
  • High school principals should expand course offerings in the four arts disciplines.
  • The New York State Board of Regents and the State Education Department should review the graduation requirements and examine the benefits of increasing the minimum requirement to three arts courses.

Expand Student Access to the City’s Cultural Arts Sector

  • The city should implement policies and dedicate resources to ensure that all students have access to the city’s cultural arts sector.
Ensure All Schools Have Certified Arts Teachers
  • Every school should have at minimum one certified arts teacher on staff.
  • The city should expand to arts teachers the existing financial incentives to attract and retain certified teachers in high-needs areas.
  • The city should support and expand approaches for sharing arts teachers and teaching artists among small high schools.
  • The New York State Education Department should create an expedited certification program for non-arts subject area teachers to attain certification in any the four recognized arts forms.
Require Adequate Classroom Space for Arts Instruction
  • The city should require that all schools provide adequate space for arts instruction. The formula used for determining a school’s capacity should reflect this requirement.
  • The city should conduct an inventory of classrooms utilized for arts instruction, including a survey of the number and former use of arts spaces that have been repurposed. These spaces should be reclaimed for arts instruction.
  • Arts spaces should be incorporated into the design and construction of all future school facilities.
Dedicate Resources to Support Arts Instruction
  • Principals should be held accountable for spending funds received through the Project Arts budget line exclusively on arts education.
Ensure School Compliance with Existing State Regulations for Arts Instruction
  • The New York State Education Department should conduct a thorough and periodic audit of compliance with the New York State education regulations for the arts and develop a comprehensive intervention program for districts and schools out of compliance.
  • The city should expand to arts teachers the existing financial incentives to attract and retain certified teachers in high-needs areas.
  • The New York State Education Department, City Comptroller, or other government entity should conduct an investigation and issue a public report on New York City high school compliance with graduation requirements.

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