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Campaign Aims to Put Pressure on DOE to Restore Arts Education

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In order to retain arts in public education, parents need to make some noise.

That is the contention of Tony Dandridge, the president of the District 18 Community Education Council (CEC), who took his message recently to a local civic group looking for help and support.

Armed with a pile of flyers and a tall stack of business reply postcards addressed to the Center for Arts Education (CAE) whose message is “I believe that arts are essential to a well-rounded education,” Dandridge urged members of the United Canarsie South Civic Association (UCSCA), gathered at the Hebrew Educational Society, 9502 Seaview Avenue, to make their voices heard on the subject, as well as to encourage friends and neighbors also to take a stand.

“We would like to put some pressure on the city Department of Education (DOE) to provide what is law,” Dandridge explained.

“With cutback, they are focusing on academics, which is great, but it’s at the expense of cutting out art and physical education,” he noted, adding, “We, as parents, need to be concerned.”

The postcards are meant to show popular support for legislation now in Albany (S5878 and A08938) whose goal is to make sure that all of the state’s student receive the minimum state arts education requirements, by requiring the state commissioner of education to audit all schools for compliance with the arts education mandates, with those schools or districts that do not meet the minimum being required to correct their curricula to meet the minimum arts education requirements.

According to CAE, from first to sixth grade, schools are required to provide all students with instruction in music, dance, theater and visual arts, though the recommended minimum of 20 percent of class time for grades one to three decreases to 10 percent of class time for grades four through six.

In addition, in seventh and eighth grades, students must receive two arts courses taught by a teacher certified in the subject, and in ninth through 12th grades, students are required to complete two arts courses taught by teachers certified in the subjects in order to qualify for graduation.

Despite the law, CAE cites a survey conducted by the public advocate’s office and data provided by DOE to contend, “In the elementary grades, only eight percent of elementary schools (in New York City) offer the four arts forms each year to every child.” In addition, according to documents prepared by CAE, “Less than half of middle schools are ensuring that every child receives the State Education Department’s arts requirements for grades seven or eight.” In addition, CAE asserts, “Nearly 30 percent of schools have no certified arts teacher on staff.”

DOE, however, contends that it does, in fact, provide arts education to students. The 2007-2008 Annual Arts in School Report begins by asserting, “Under the leadership of Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, New York City has made the arts a priority for its public schools.”

In addition, the report’s executive summary contends that, despite a weakened economy, in the 2007-2008 school year, the city’s schools, “Managed to maintain their spending in the arts.”

Overall spending on arts education, the report said, was “flat,” while increasing, per student from $308 in Fiscal Year 2007 to $311 in Fiscal Year 2008. In addition, according to the report, 4.7 percent more of schools’ art budgets was spent on personnel; this increase was offset by a 2.21 percent decrease in spending on arts and cultural vendors as well as 63.19 percent decrease in expenditure on supplies and equipment.

Yet, the same report reveals that, the city’s public schools have a way to go in meeting arts requirements. Only 45 percent of elementary schools offered four arts disciplines in 2007-2008, up from 38 percent the previous year. Only 33 percent of the city’s public middle schools offered the four arts disciplines, up from 17 percent the prior year. Of high schools, the report notes, “Thirty-four percent of high schools provide students the opportunity to exceed the minimum graduation requirement.”

As far as teacher certification is concerned, the report says, “More than 71 percent of our schools have at least one certified arts teacher. Over 64 percent of schools have at least one visual arts teacher, and 50 percent have at least one music teacher. At all grade levels, a smaller percentage of schools offer instruction in dance and theater. Fourteen percent of schools have at least one dance teacher, and 9 percent of schools have at least one theater teacher.”

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