More than half of New Jersey high school students took classes in the arts during the past school year, with more than 1 million at all grade levels participating in public school arts programs, according to a new report.
The analysis of state Department of Education data by thealso found that 89 percent of middle-schoolers and 94 percent of elementary students received at least some arts education in the 2014-2015 school year.
The current School Performance Report, a sort of report card on schools for the 2014-2015 year, was the first to report arts education enrollment for grades below high school. In addition to arts participation data, the arts partnership also analyzed arts educator assignment data.
According to the partnership's analysis, 96 percent of schools reported offering arts education programs, and more than 1 million students took one or more arts classes during the school day. That means 81 percent of all public school students participated in arts programs.
“While these numbers are very encouraging, there is still more work to be done to bring the arts to every student in our state," said Robert Morrison, chairman of the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership.
At the high school level, nearly half of students, or almost 205,000, enrolled in at least one arts class last year. That's slightly higher than in 2012-2013, when about 47 percent, or slightly less than 200,000 high school students took an arts class.
The increase is a pleasant surprise to many arts educators, who have worried that fewer high school students would be taking classes in music, dance, drama, and the visual arts because increasing state mandates would leave them without time in their schedules. Recently, state education officials added a financial literacy graduation requirement, which students typically fulfill by taking a half-year course.
At least some participation in the arts will continue at the high school level as long as New Jersey continues to mandate that students complete 5 credits in the arts in order to graduate. The state's requirement has been in place since 1996, and New Jersey's requirement is among the strongest in the nation -- some states require no arts classes and others mandate a half year.
Arts educators and many others believe participation in the arts is an important part of a student's educational development. Studies have found links between involvement in the visual and performing arts and improved school attendance and engagement, increased academic performance, lower discipline and dropout rates, and higher levels of college attendance. Additionally, advocates say the arts help develop problem- solving and critical-thinking skills, creativity and collaboration.
The partnership's analysis shows that visual arts are the most popular at the high school level, with more than three in 10 students enrolled last year. Almost two in 10 students took music, about 4 percent studied theater, and about 2 percent studied dance. Every discipline saw an increase in enrollment and two-thirds of schools reported more students taking arts classes.
However, while music and visual arts classes are almost universally offered, fewer than 5 percent of schools offer dance and theater classes, the partnership found.
According to the School Performance Report, 13 high schools -- most of them vocational school academies or magnet schools -- did not report any arts education data. Fewer than one in 10 students took arts classes in five New Jersey high schools, all of them either urban or charter schools. At least half of high school students participated in the arts in 203 public schools throughout the state.