We probably can’t have both – New York Daily News

The Legislature in Albany recently voted to lower class sizes in the New York City schools. The legislation is now in front of Gov. Hochul. While it’s a worthy goal, it will quite possibly have the unintended consequence of eliminating arts and music programs in our schools.

Mayor Adams insists that the class size reduction legislation is another unfunded mandate for New York City’s public schools. He and Schools Chancellor David Banks both recently stated that reducing class sizes without state funding would cause “large cuts” in other educational areas. Meanwhile, the New York City Council recently agreed to a budget that cuts more than $200 million from the schools. My fellow arts and music advocates and I know that whenever school budgets are decreased and a chancellor threatens the loss of specific programs, it almost certainly means that arts and music programs are going to be on the chopping block.

We have seen in other cities across the country that whenever budgets are tight, art and music education are often the first to go. And the cuts are never equitable. In high-income schools, PTAs and wealthy parents often come up with funding to pay for arts and music programs, while schools with lower-income students simply lose these programs, and the students suffer.

In the past decade, New York City schools have seen a slow but steady increase in the number of children who participate in arts and music programming. In the last Arts in Schools report prior to the pandemic, it was reported that about 90% of elementary school students participated in music education and 97% participated in visual arts. It’s a testament to the tireless efforts of arts and music advocates, elected officials and school staff members throughout the city that so many children now receive instruction in these critical programs.

In the past, research supporting the value of arts and music education was often based on qualitative studies that touted improvements in children’s feelings or teacher’s beliefs. But in recent years, the research has become more quantitative and has shown that students’ academic abilities, attendance rates and social and emotional learning are greatly improved by music and arts education, even more so than many other forms of intervention.

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Last year, the Save the Music (STM) Foundation released the results of a five-year study of music education in the Newark public schools, in which schools with and without music teachers were studied to determine the impact of music education on student outcomes. Researchers looked at each school’s academic progress, surveyed teachers and measured students’ attendance records. The results were eye-opening.

After only one year with a music teacher, schools saw a 6% decrease, on average, in chronic absenteeism rates. Schools with a music program saw an increase in attendance rates. Other research has also found that having an art teacher in a school reduces chronic absenteeism.

Chronic absenteeism has become a huge problem in schools since the start of the pandemic. In 2022, New York City public school students had the highest rate of chronic absenteeism in more than 20 years. Simply having a music or arts teacher in your school means more students attend school.

The STM study also found that schools with music teachers saw two- to five-point improvements in students’ English Language Arts scores, and 68% of teachers reported improved overall student academic performance. Teachers reported that nearly every student who attended a school with a music teacher improved their social-emotional skills. It is very rare to find an intervention in education that rigorous research has shown to have a positive impact on students in so many ways.

I would like to believe that all of the recent research has persuaded government and school leaders that music and arts education is no longer an extracurricular program, but is rather a rigorous, basic part of the curriculum that should be required in all schools and adds to the holistic experience of students. But I think that it is unlikely to be the case. Every principal that I have spoken with in the past few weeks has mentioned a decreased school budget and the potential of their music programs being eliminated.

If the city wants to improve academic performance, increase attendance rates and develop students’ social and emotional skills, there is no better way to do so than to hire more music and arts teachers. But when schools are mandated by the state to spend their funding on reducing class size without enough money to pay for it without sacrificing other programs, principals’ hands are tied. It is imperative that the governor, mayor, chancellor and local elected officials ensure that music and arts programming not be sacrificed. Our childrens’ future depends on it.

Weinman is executive director of Education Through Music.

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