In Michigan schools, the arts education landscape is as diverse as the state’s geography. Under the state’s educational guidelines, students from kindergarten through high school are required to learn about dance, visual art, music and theater.
The Michigan Merit Curriculum requires students to complete one course in “visual, performing or applied arts” in order to graduate and receive a high school diploma. The state’s art education varies greatly in both availability and structure, as districts often try to balance budget deficits and educational needs by reducing or changing the classes they offer, writes Brian Smith of Mlive.com.
The graduation requirement, coupled with budget pressures facing districts across the state, has often put elementary and middle school arts programs on the chopping block.
Joni Starr, a Michigan State University education professor, said the benefits of arts education at early ages and throughout K-12 invaluable. According to Starr, arts education helps younger children develop communication skills and encourages students to consider other perspectives while learning.
According to Starr, art education often loses out in funding crunches because districts put their focus on mathematics, English and other subjects included on standardized tests.
The focus on high-stakes standardized testing has weighed on decisions about arts coverage across the country. A 2009 study commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, a non-profit group focusing on education issues, said “arts education remains at best a stepchild in the curriculum and sometimes requires extraordinary efforts just to be kept in the family,” and cited increased testing as a reason arts education is often reduced.
The pressure on arts education is expected to increase as Michigan and the nation move toward new assessments for students and a teacher evaluation system tied to student performance.
The Lansing School District eliminated arts classes for elementary students due to budget cuts. Instead of eliminating classes, the school can rely on uncertified instructors to help classroom teachers provide lessons on music and art. Also, the school plans to start a program in two schools to combine arts education with science and mathematics through a $4 million federal grant.
Additionally, budget cuts have forced Jackson, Flint and Detroit to reduce arts offerings. But through the work of parents and community donors, students still have some access to visual arts and music classes. In Jackson, parents at one elementary school have raised money to hire an art teacher at their own expense, while outside groups in Flint and Detroit offer both educational programs and funding for classroom instruction.
In other areas, arts education is a priority even in the face of budget cuts. Ann Arbor Public Schools is offering a wide variety of classes and employing the equivalent of more than 100 full-time arts teachers. In Saginaw, arts-focused charter schools Muskegon and Grand Rapids are giving students the ability to focus on their talents.
In Kalamazoo, a partnership between school districts across the county is providing dance, theater and media production classes to students who otherwise would not be able to take those courses due to budget constraints. Expansion has attracted more than 500 students into the program, which currently is offering evening and weekend classes.