Journalism students at Howard University’s school of communications were deeply engaged in this year’s presidential campaign as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney battled for the White House. The students wrote widely about the candidates and the issues. Some traveled to Ohio, a key battleground state, and wrote about classmates who canvassed voters there as volunteers for the Obama campaign.
Others wrote about college students struggling to pay rising tuitions after their parents had lost jobs and homes to foreclosures. One student wrote about black Republicans who supported Romney and their status as double minorities – minorities within the Republican Party and among black voters who largely supported Obama. Throughout the year, students reported on the economic and social challenges that working people and poor communities were facing, issues that were being neglected by candidates singularly focused on the needs of the middle class.
And on Election Day, the students covered everything from problem-plagued polling stations to election night parties and spontaneous street festivities in front of the White House. The Root DC is publishing some of the students’ work, starting with the story below by Tyleah Hawkins, a sophomore, about the impact of funding cuts to public school arts programs in poor communities.
Schools across the country have slashed their arts programs in the wake of major funding cuts by state governments struggling to balance their budgets during the economic downturn.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more than 95 percent of school-aged children are attending schools that have cut funding since the recession. Schools in wealthier neighborhoods that faced budget cuts were able to make up for their losses through private donations, while schools in impoverished neighborhoods have not.
As a result, schools in areas serving children from low-income families have reduced or completely cut their arts and music programs. These programs tend to be the first casualties of budget cuts in hard-pressed school districts already struggling to meet other demands of the academic curriculum, and they are rarely restored. Some school districts don’t have much meat left to cut from arts programs that had already been reduced to bare bones after repeated funding shortfalls over many years.
“The cuts that have been occurring for the past couple of decades ... however, with this recession, many arts advocates such as myself do not have a clue when some programs will be brought back,” said Narric Rome, senior director of Federal Affairs and Arts Education at Americans for the Arts, a national organization that promotes the arts. “The entire system is very unstable; teachers are laid off one school year and brought back the next, or most times not brought back at all. If we are lucky enough to bring these programs back, they won’t be for a couple of years. Which means some students who are in school during these difficult economic times will completely miss out on the benefits of arts education.”
Although arts and music programs tend to be seen as less important than reading, math or science, research has shown that arts education is academically beneficial.
“Low-income students who had arts-rich experiences in high schools were more than three times as likely to earn a B.A. as low-income students without those experiences. And the new study from the National Endowment reports that low-income high school students who earned few or no arts credits were five times more likely not to graduate from high school than low-income students who earned many arts credits,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a report titled “Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 2009-10.”
The arts have also proven to be a form of inspiration and expression for at-risk students, especially those in inner-city schools, and have been shown to improve their outlook on education.
According to a study titled “The Role of the Fine and Performing Arts in High School Dropout Prevention,” by the Center for Music Research at Florida State University, “Students at risk of not successfully completing their high school educations cite their participation in the arts as reasons for staying in school. Factors related to the arts that positively affected the motivation of these students included a supportive environment that promotes constructive acceptance of criticism and one where it is safe to take risks.”
Organizations such as ArtsEdSearch, an online clearinghouse that collects and summarizes high quality arts education research studies and analyzes their implications for educational policy and practice, have done private research about the issue. AEP Executive Director Sandra Ruppert said that the findings in the report point to the power of the arts to lead the way in helping every child realize success in schools
“This is especially true for underserved students who benefit most significantly from arts learning but are the least likely to receive a high-quality arts education,” Ruppert said.
Research has also shown that arts education helps improve standardized test scores. A study done by The College Board, a nonprofit association that works to make sure all students in the American educational system are college-ready, found that students who take four years of arts and music classes while in high school score 91 points better on their SAT exams than students who took only a half year or less (scores averaged 1070 among students in arts educations compared to 979 for students without arts education.)
“Arts education gives children a place where they can express themselves and channel negative emotion into something positive. Students are well-rounded and required to be academically healthy in all subjects to perform. To be honest, what is learned in music education is truly immeasurable,” said Barbara Benglian, the 2006 Pennsylvania state teacher of the year. Benglian has been teaching at Upper Darby High school in Drexel Hill, Pa., for nearly 40 years. Her school was one of the many schools at risk of losing their arts programs due to low test scores. However, the arts programs at the school were saved after parents, students and alumni organized petitions and protests rallies. Even Upper Darby alumnus and actress Tina Fey jumped on board to help save the arts program. Other schools around the country are not as fortunate.
Several Howard University students who participated in music and arts education in grade school and high school speak fondly of the positive effect it has had on their lives.
“In elementary school, music sparked my interest and led me to playing the trumpet. It gave me the opportunity to travel to places I otherwise would not have gone, and most importantly, helped me become more culturally accepting by broadening my musical horizons,” said Joe Williams, a junior majoring in psychology. “Without music, I would not be as open as I am to learning about new people.”
Nate Shellton, a sophomore, chose to dedicate his life to the arts by majoring in acting.
“I think it’s absolutely outrageous that fine arts are the first to be cut in public schools,” he said. “It says a lot about what is important to education in America. Because math and science is what is being tested, tests that determine a school’s ranking is what is most important to the school, but the institutions’ ranking is not necessarily what’s in the best interest of the students as a whole person.”
More from The Root DC