With continued budget cuts, a greater focus on math and reading education, and an enduring emphasis on standardized testing, the future for art education in public schools around the U.S. may seem bleak. However, the growth of technology and software over the same period can provide educators with novel and inexpensive options for new art teaching methods.
From simple drawing apps to complex video-editing software, technological advancements can enable arts education for a fraction of the price of what it cost even 15 years ago. For resource-strapped public schools where art classes are the first thing on the chopping block, these technologies are key to providing the balanced education that most benefit students.
Students across the United States are not getting a full arts education. According to a 2012 report published by the National Center for Education Statistics, the amount of arts education was much lower at public elementary schools in 2009-2010 than ten years earlier, particularly with visual arts, dance, and drama. Cuts have been reported in middle and high school as well.
Experts point to the emphasis of math and reading comprehension education and testing as some factors reducing arts education as well as significant budget cuts that many communities have experienced. In 2012, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan explained that high-poverty schools have seen the most art program cuts.
The trend of losing arts programs doesn’t just mean that students lose the opportunity to paint or play music. Arts education is correlated to greater educational and professional success later in life. From art history to music reading, art classes can improve broader cultural education, enhance academic understanding in other subjects, and lead to routes of passion and expression.
Arts education has also been tied to better attendance, more creativity, improved fine motor skills, more interest in learning, and many other beneficial traits. Although arts education is cut the most in high-poverty school districts, these are the students who are shown to be the most impacted by these programs. A National Endowment for the Arts survey shows that arts education particularly increases the chances of earning a bachelor’s degree for students at high-poverty schools by more than 30 percent.
There are numerous studies arguing for the importance of arts education in school, with many, such as NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, agreeing that art is critical to a complete education.
“We must focus on educating the whole child,” he said. “Students should be exposed to a broad and rich curriculum that includes not only math and reading, but courses and clubs that focus on dance, music, art, theater and other creative disciplines. The arts are important. They enrich our lives. They have always offered ways to learn and express ideas.”
Although arts programs are often among the first to be cut, many parents and community leaders have fought back. Some lobby for government grants to keep programs open, pointing to the positive effects of neurological development that come from arts education while others have helped institute “integrated” curricula that involve arts education in science and math classes.
Aside from these new curriculum approaches and traditional grassroots activism, technology has emerged as the go-to weapon to keep arts education in school classrooms. Software, apps, and even video games have allowed teenagers to pursue creative projects outside school walls for years, and now educators are harnessing these tools to deal with arts cutbacks.
The Remark Learning Network pointed to one example of new technology being used for education. The Pittsburgh Filmmakers are taking advantage of new videography equipment to help students become young auteurs with support and expertise but not the high costs for cameras and hardware of the past. Free or inexpensive video-editing software for tablets and computers allows students to make movies regardless of their school’s facilities. The omnipresence of high-definition cameras on handheld devices helps as well.
Others have used “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” to introduce students to the basics of playing music. These simple technologies allow for greater interaction and exposure that can lead to improved education. Programs such as Garageband or Audacity provide free, easy access to recording, editing, and creating music for students in and out of the classroom.
From Mozilla Popcorn Maker to Minecraft, there are plenty of great online tools that educators can use to teach and involve students in arts education. Even YouTube can help bring in expert lectures to the world of art history, drama, and music. Technology is allowing the most budget-cut programs to provide students with tools that would have cost thousands of dollars decades ago.
Whether it’s involving more art in other disciplines, using art as a teaching tool, improving students cultural understanding, or simply allowing students an opportunity to broaden their horizons: art programs are shown to help students’ overall education. Tom Horne, Arizona’s state superintendent of public instruction, told Edutopia that arts education can even help raise test scores and meet government mandates.
“If they’re worried about their test scores and want a way to get them higher, they need to give kids more arts, not less,” said Horne “There’s lots of evidence that kids immersed in the arts do better on their academic tests.”
Cuts to arts programs take away these learning motivations and educational benefits that studies have shown helpful for life as a student and adult. While some programs and school districts are pushing for higher art education requirements, technology can provide many more educators with the opportunity to teach arts.