In hard economic times, arts education programs often falls victim to budget cuts in favor of other subjects like math and science. Even in strong economic times, arts are denigrated as a distraction from learning skills that will get students hired after graduation.
The story of arts education programs in Chicago is a fascinating example of a school system is trying to rescue and revive its arts curriculum from decades of budget cuts, sequestration, and layoffs.
The national budget crisis in 1979 forced Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to shorten the school day and lay off nearly all of its art teachers. This state of operations was tragically the norm for more than a decade. Chicago’s children were totally shortchanged on art education, and had to look elsewhere for art and creative inspiration.
Through the 1990’s Chicago schools began partnering with local arts organizations to bring arts back into the fold. Pegasus Players Theatre, for example, joined with a neighborhood chamber of commerce and a library to integrate arts into four local schools. Since the artists have been at these schools, test scores have risen steadily, according to the Lakeview Education and Arts Partnership.
The recession of 2008 brought new woes. Over 1,000 Chicago teachers were laid off when CPS closed over 50 schools. Nearly 10 percent of those laid off taught art or music.
School districts across the country responded to similarly strained budgets by slashing arts education while preserving subjects like math, reading, and science.
In 2012, Chicago created the Arts Education Plan (AEP) with the goal of creating a policy and programming blueprint that would increase access, equity and quality of arts education for CPS students. The AEP began awarding grants for art teacher training and mandated that every elementary school should provide two hours of arts instruction per week.
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