With the release of the second annual report connected to the federal No Child Left Behind act, some are asking, "Are we leaving the arts behind?"
Title IX of the act defines core academic subjects as English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography. However, the act only requires testing in English, math and eventually science.
The lack of required testing could result in arts education being sidelined in favor of additional instruction in the high-stakes testing subjects, some fear.
"No one ever said this is going to impact the arts, but what happens at middle school where the electives are less and they are taken away for remediation?" said Roger Tomhave, Fairfax County Public Schools fine arts coordinator. "Our kids that are enrolled in the arts tend to be fine. The kids I worry about are the ones having trouble in school. For example, ESL [English speakers of other languages] students, one place they can shine is music, because it's an international language. If we take that away from them, we take away their ability to shine. It also takes away enrollment, which is teachers' jobs."
Arts education is required through elementary school, but from the middle-school level on, it is an elective. With the advent of the state's Standards of Learning tests, increasingly, students in danger of failing the required tests are pulled out of elective classes for extra instruction in their weak subjects. Now, with the federal No Child Left Behind requirements, Tomhave says the fine arts will be in danger of less funding, reduced staffing and low enrollments, all in favor of the tested subjects.
Tomhave said the fine arts can be incorporated to help struggling students without the need to pull them out of class.
"Some students learn the best through visuals or other modalities. Some need to see it or hear it," Tomhave said.
Studies have shown the arts expand the capabilities of the mind, he said.
In addition, it may be an arts class that keeps a student in school. There are students who are more successful in the arts than other core subjects. The arts keep the students coming to school and eventually the motivation to do well in art spills over to the other subjects.
Schools Superintendent Daniel Domenech agrees that the arts are important, but the pressure to focus on math, English and science are made even greater with the federal act. Even so, he said he is determined to keeping fine arts alive in Fairfax County.
"We are committed to creating well-rounded students by continuing to provide a well-rounded education," Domenech said. "We'll do the best we can. The true success of a child is a comprehensive education … not a narrow focus."