The No Child Left Behind Act and Arts Programs

Regardless of your standing on the effects and benefits of the No Child Left Behind Act (Public Law 107-110), the most recent large scale education reform, the NCLB has had a profound negative effect on music and the arts in general in public schools.  Robert Lynch provided statistics in The Hill when the act was coming back up for re authorization in 2007:

A recent national study of the Act’s impact by the Council on Education Policy reveals that a majority of school leaders saw gains in achievement, but 71 percent reported having reduced instructional time in at least one other subject to make more time for reading and math. Since the passage of NCLB, 22 percent of elementary school leaders surveyed reported a decline in their art and music instruction.

This is fairly significant.   My introduction to the viola was through the local public school system in Cleveland.  An education surely should provide for the basic skills necessary for children to grow into functioning members of society (high school level math and reading levels), but it should also be far more.  Any education should provide a broad pallet of topics so students can explore their interests and develop their dreams.

When I was attending the music academy/festival California Summer Music, the quartet I was placed in was asked to play an outreach for the local music program.  The students at the public school there were largely the sons and daughters of migrant workers in northern-California’s garlic fields.  After the program, we were taken out to lunch by one of the members of the school’s PTA and she related a chilling story about how the NCLB act had wrecked the music program at the school.

In general, to meet the proficiency-standards in math and reading set by the state, music programs all over the country are moved off of school hours to accommodate more class time for these two topics (the only subjects taken under consideration in the NCLB’s standardized testing).  The problem that this particular school had, was that moving the music program directly after school conflicted with athletics.  This led it to be put further after athletics, giving the students and staff time to eat dinner.  Since the music program was so late after school ended, none of the district’s buses were available to take students home with out paying time and a half, which considering the budgets of most local districts, wouldn’t fly with the board.

With this change, the music program instantly lost half of its students.  This, for the reasons I expressed above, is tragic.  Not only are we thinning our artistic talent pool, and subsequently our ability to export culture and ideas, but we are removing an enriching experience from our children’s lives, regardless of their intent on whether to become a professional artist.

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