Public schools’ arts programs have been decimated in recent years thanks to drastic budget cuts and an emphasis on standardized testing under former Mayor Bloomberg, Queens leaders said, adding that the lack of creative instruction paved the way for the main message in a report released by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli Friday: Many city students are not receiving the kind of education that is required by New York law.
“Our audit reveals too many New York City schools may be cutting corners with arts education,” DiNapoli said in a statement released Friday. “Students should be taught by certified teachers for the required number of hours each week. We all want to find the right formula to improve education, and improving arts instruction needs to be part of that equation.”
DiNapoli’s audit, which examined the arts education received by a random sample of 310 city students at 166 public high schools from 2007 to 2011, reported that as many as two-thirds of sampled students did not receive the kind of instruction that met one or more state guidelines. For example, 99 of the 205 art teachers in the audit were not certified in arts education as required. Art classes provided to 90 students at 57 schools had no syllabus as required, and 111 schools provided documentation showing that 59 percent of sampled students received the required hours of arts education. The remaining 55 schools could not provide documentation that 38 percent of the students in the audit received the arts instruction the state Education Department requires for graduation.
In New York, high school students must earn at least one unit of arts education during their high school career to qualify for a diploma. State regulations require that teachers be certified for arts instruction, and schools must provide 180 minutes of art class each week for two semesters or 108 hours during one school year. Additionally, schools are legally required to have an arts syllabus approved by the state Education Department.
Of the 39 Queens schools that the comptroller assessed, 27 had students taking the correct number of arts education hours, 15 had certified arts teachers, and 21 offered arts courses that all had a state-approved syllabi. Many Queens schools, like institutions across the city, have sustained major cuts to their arts programs, borough educational leaders said.
“I am not surprised given the cuts to education budgets,” Deborah Dillingham, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’s appointee to the city Panel for Educational Policy, said of the audit. “The report was frightening. I hope the chancellor will address this lack of adherence to specific guidelines. Funding appropriate programming for our students is a must – not an option. Our students are entitled to an arts education, and principals who are not following the regulations should be held accountable. I hope this is remedied immediately.”
Much of the decrease in the programs can be attributed to significant budget cuts implemented four years ago, former city Panel for Educational Policy member and Middle Village parent Dmytro Fedkowskyj said.
“What I think caused the problem was when budgets began to get tight four years ago, they eliminated dedicated funding for the arts,” Fedkowskyj said. “They gave schools the money but they loosened requirements on how to spend it. That was the downfall.”
Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), the chairman of the Council’s Education Committee and a former public school teacher, said he experienced firsthand arts programs being cut from schools in order for the institutions to make way for test preparation.
“Life isn’t worth living without art,” Dromm said. “There are careers to be made out of art. Getting kids to appreciate art, taking kids to museums, these things motivate them and prepare them for life.”
“I saw kids excel in the arts who maybe weren’t the greatest readers or mathematicians in the world, but art gave them a venue to express themselves,” Dromm continued. “I’m so glad that the comptroller focused on this because it’s an area that has been overlooked for so long.”
The Queens lawmaker said he believes the arts scene in the city will begin to change, noting that schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña agreed with the audit that schools must adhere to state requirements for arts education.
“Teachers should be encouraged by principals to get additional training – the arts organizations like Carnegie Hall and the New York City ballet offer workshops for teachers,” Dromm said.