Arts Education Suffering In San Jose Schools

Art programs, such as art appreciation, drama, theater and music, have been suffering across the nation for 30 years, as school officials concentrate on the basics of learning. With federal programs, such as No Child Left Behind, even more focus has been placed on basic learning skills, which excludes the arts. This also means that any extra funding is funneled into these basic learning programs in order to meet state and federal-set standards. Arts education is one of the standards that should be met by schools within the state of California, yet the state does not impose penalties on schools that do not met these particular standards.

A statewide survey by SRI International concluded that of the 1,123 schools surveyed:

• 89 percent failed to meet state standards for arts education;
• Nearly 1/3 offered no art education coursework that met state standards;
• 61 percent had no full-time arts specialist, with classroom teachers without adequate training teaching arts education at the elementary level;
• Kindergarten through 12 enrollment in music classes declined by 37 percent over a five-year period, ending last June; and
• Poor schools have the least access to arts education; whereas better income schools (where parents can afford private lessons) are more apt to have it.

Chris Funk is the San Jose schools’ principal of Lincoln High School, a stellar magnet arts school. He believes that the more San Jose schools’ students are exposed to the arts the better they will do in testing within other coursework.

Studies have proven that a strong arts program can be linked to improvement in everything from math skills to truancy. Arts education in elementary and secondary schools produce skilled sculptors, actors, musicians, singers and so many other arts-related careers. The arts also improve the socialization skills of students.

Bill Eriendson, assistant superintendent of the San Jose schools, stated that the level of funding for the arts is inadequate. Last year, the state budgeted $500 million for the arts and physical education; however, this amount was a one-time deal. The norm is $105 million, which is about $15 per student. According to Eriendson, the San Jose schools requires about $800,000 to restore just their music programs at the elementary San Jose schools. This figure does not include the purchase of instruments.

San Jose schools are a good representation of the statewide findings. Besides trying to meet state and federal standards in the basic coursework, the San Jose schools were hit with Proposition 13 that was passed in 1978, which imposed tax cuts for Californians and greatly reduced funding for arts education. The arts were first cut in the secondary San Jose schools and then in the elementary San Jose schools. By the late 1980s, arts education was all but gone in the San Jose schools.

According to Funk, there currently is a waiting list of 225 San Jose schools’ students. He finds San Jose schools’ students are drawn to the dance, theater, music and visual arts programs offered by his school. Without the support of the Lincoln Foundation, which donated $75,000 for this school year, this San Jose schools arts magnet would not exist.

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