Arts Education Isn't Taking a Backseat in Chicago Public Schools

In the midst of a financial crisis, Chicago’s public schools have continued to strengthen their commitment to arts education. So says a  new report from the nonprofit arts advocacy group Ingenuity. Four years ago, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) launched an Arts Education Plan and set the goal for every district elementary school to provide two hours of arts instruction per week. About 60 percent of district schools have reached the top two levels of Ingenuity’s arts ranking system. Across the country, public school systems are still struggling to restore arts programs cut during earlier budget crises, especially during the Great Recession. NAEP (National Association of Educational Progress) results show that arts exposure and assessments have  flatlined between 2008 and 2016. In 2016, only 42 percent of eighth-graders NAEP surveyed were taking an art class. The figure rose to 63 percent of eighth-graders surveyed taking a music class. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9vL-AdTPng Chicago appears to be at the forefront of a move to jumpstart arts education. According to  Education Week, cities like Austin and Dallas, are conducting similar surveys to gauge the health of their arts education programs in schools. Meanwhile, California and New Jersey have begun reporting on the whereabouts of quality arts education statewide. "Ingenuity's findings confirm that we are moving in the right direction, and we will continue to seek opportunities to elevate arts education in schools throughout Chicago," said CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson.

Long Struggle to Restore Arts Takes Quantum Leap

Chicago’s struggle to restore arts education programs stretches back to the  budget crisis of 1979, when the school day was shortened and virtually all arts teachers were laid off. It took a decade for the arts to begin making a comeback. Through the 1990s and beyond, schools began  stretching their resources by partnering with community-based arts organizations and integrating arts into academic subjects to give students more exposure. With the launch of the Arts Education Plan in 2012, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel helped the district take a quantum leap forward in policy and commit to the arts at a deeper level. Back in  2013, the system had 1,163 full-time arts teachers working in schools. As of 2016, the number had grown to 1,402, despite budget cuts and layoffs, which means more than 90 percent of district schools have at least one arts teacher on staff. The share of elementary schools offering arts education for two hours weekly has grown from 40 percent to 59 percent. Community arts partners and local foundations have also strengthened their commitment to arts in schools. Ingenuity’s  Artlook map tracks partnerships by schools and by arts partner. Private-sector investment in public-school arts education now stands at $11 milllion. Nonetheless, 4 percent of district students still have no access to arts programs. The report notes that Chicago’s charter schools were less likely to complete the survey than were district-operated schools. While nearly all district-run public schools took part, only about two-thirds of the city’s charters completed the survey. Ingenuity plans to continue outreach to bring charter schools into the mix and connect them more closely with potential arts partners. "The strength of CPS arts education has helped our students channel their creativity and hone their skills to become the next great creators and innovators," Jackson said.
Maureen Kelleher
Maureen Kelleher is Editorial Partner at Ed Post. She is a veteran education reporter, a former high school English teacher, and also the proud mom of an elementary student in Chicago Public Schools. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. Between 1998 and 2006 she was an associate editor at Catalyst Chicago, the go-to ...

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