Arts Education Slowly Coming Back to Los Angeles Schools

The Los Angeles Unified School District is looking at reviving a number of arts programs in its schools thanks to a new budget that halts – and in some cases reverses – the funding cutbacks of the last five years. Teresa Watanabe of the Los Angeles Times reports that the first step will come with an announcement this week of a $150,000 Los Angeles Fund for Public Education grant to the Music Center for the purposes of training 20 teachers on how best to incorporate art into traditional educational activities.

Since the first round of budget cuts took effect in 2008, funding for arts programs in LAUSD declined by more than 40%. Today, only about 2% of district elementary schools have regular arts programs. To counteract this, the district school board approved the creation of a five-year "Arts at the Core" program, as well as set funding for the arts at the 2007-08 level of $32 million.

Some of the money will go towards raising the number of so-called traveling arts teachers that oversee programs at several schools simultaneously. Since 2008, their number declined by more than 50%. Currently about 200 such instructors are covering the entire district.

But a chief thrust is to incorporate art into math, science, English and social studies classes — in part to shield it from future budget cuts, district officials said.

The program will kick off with introductory training by the Music Center next month. Slavkin said artists and teachers will brainstorm ways to connect academic lessons to "The Rite of Spring," the 1913 ballet and orchestral concert work by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

"We're not going to convert an eighth-grade English teacher into an experienced dance teacher … but we hope to get the juices flowing," Slavkin said.

Restoration of arts programs in Los Angeles could be a big step towards improving student outcomes. A report issued by the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in 2011 reviewed over a decade worth of research which shows that integrating arts into the curriculum has a positive impact on student performance. The difference is especially marked for low-income students. According to Watanabe, a study that followed students over several years found that low-income students exposed to the arts as part of their education were more likely than their peers to not only graduate from high school but also enroll in college and earn a degree. They also earned higher incomes and were more likely to vote.

"This powerful method of instruction helps students engage in their studies, retain more and become the creative problem-solvers needed in our global economy," Megan Chernin, chief executive of the Los Angeles Fund for Public Education, said in a statement.

Last fall, the organization launched a $4-million campaign to raise awareness about the importance of arts education that included artworks on public buses and other locations and endorsements by such artists as Justin Bieber and Barbara Kruger.

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