Arts Ed NJ census report: ‘More work needs to be done’

Numerous studies demonstrate the impact of arts education on student success. Though classes in music, dance, theater and visual arts aren’t yet all available in every curriculum in every school district, the state’s on its way. That’s according to a new census report called “Arts Ed Now: Every Child. Every School.” Arts Ed New Jersey Founder Bob Morrison joins Correspondent Lyndsay Christian.

Christian: Bob, so Arts Ed New Jersey recently conducted a census report evaluating the 2015-2016 school year. It revealed 96 percent of New Jersey schools are offered arts education. That’s based on state policy, but 11 percent do not have access to the four arts disciplines: theater, music, dance and visual arts. So, can you talk more about that?

Morrison: Yeah, well first of all it’s 99 percent of our schools actually are providing students with access to arts instruction. That’s about 99.4 percent of all of our students. So, the good news is we’re entering a point where we almost have universal access to arts education for all of our students. On the flip side though, only 11 percent of our students have access to all four disciplines which is certainly one of the things that we will have to be working on moving forward.

Christian: So, in terms of this 11 percent, that number has decreased, and you mentioned this to me earlier, over the last 10 years. So, there is some improvement there, but there’s work that needs to be done.

Morrison: So there’s certainly improvement in the number of students that don’t have access to any arts at all. Ten years ago it was 77,000 students didn’t have access to arts in their school. Now, we are down to 9,000. By next year that number should be down to zero. So, getting to universal access is an important milestone. But more importantly, is the fact that most students in the state have access to music and visual art, fewer students have access to theater and even less have access to dance. So, there are opportunities that we have in the state to ensure that all students have access to all of those programs.

Christian: Is it a matter of looking at resources, increasing the number of arts teachers and really ramping up that curriculum?

Morrison: I think part of it is an understanding of what the expectation is. I think many school leaders really don’t understand that all four arts disciplines should be made available. So, some of it really is about making sure we have the certified teachers in place to be able to teach the programs, that the courses are being offered for the students to be able to participate in. So to a certain degree, there’s some resource issues, but I think it’s really more a matter of knowledge.

Christian: What are the benefits of students, really 100 percent across the board, having access to these four arts disciplines? Are we looking at a more well-rounded student? What are the benefits?

Morrison: We’re absolutely looking at a more well-rounded student. The whole idea of educating students in the arts is the same idea about when we educate students in math or when we educate them in language arts literacy. We’re not teaching math to create great mathematicians or the next generation of mathematicians. We’re teaching them to be a well-rounded person, to be able to be successful regardless of what they pursue in life. Well, the same thing is true for the arts. We don’t teach the arts to create great artists. We teach the arts to create great people. And a poll that we just conducted with Rutgers-Eagleton showed that 90 percent of the population in New Jersey agreed that the arts are important for their students to have as part of a basic, well-rounded education. You and I both know that 90 percent of New Jerseyans don’t really agree on much of anything. So, the fact that they agree on the important role that the arts play in the education of our students is, I think, very important.

Christian: What is Arts Ed recommending the state take a closer look at in terms of improving these numbers?

Morrison: Well, I think first of all we’re asking that they look at where there are gaps. Where are the barriers as far as students that don’t have access to all four arts disciplines, or maybe have less opportunities in their programs and try to take a look at what’s creating the barriers. And, then based on that, taking some proactive actions. We’d like to see some policy reviews to ensure that students have access again to all four arts disciplines. And we also believe it’s important that there will be a review of the communities where there may be an economic disadvantage. We did find in this report that there is some economic disparity between some of our students that are in our low-income communities versus our high-income communities, particularly as it relates to resources and the availability of teachers. So, those are just a few of the 30 recommendations coming out from the report.

Christian: Well, a lot of work to be done in terms of just exposing every student in New Jersey to the arts.

Morrison: We’ve come a long way, but there is some more work to do.

Christian: Bob, thank you so much for joining us.

Morrison: Thank you.

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