Lucio Masthead Graphic
March 30, 2006
Contact: Doris Sanchez, Press Secretary
(512) 463-0127
Strengthening arts curriculum in reforming education

Reforming public education remains on the back burner for the forthcoming legislative session, since the priority set for us by the Supreme Court deadline of June 1 is to fund public education. But if the Governor adds education reform to the Legislature's agenda, a principal component should be arts education.

Recently, I was privileged to present a Senate Proclamation in Austin to singer/songwriter/performer Kris Kristofferson as he was bestowed the title of "Texas Heritage Songwriter." Born in Brownsville to a military family in 1936, Mr. Kristofferson not only excelled in the arts, but also in academics-he became a Rhodes Scholar. He obtained a master's degree in English literature, and later joined the U.S. Army, becoming a pilot, before embarking on his entertainment career.

Another young lady who has worked in my office and has roots in the Valley, Ms. Sara Galvan, was also a Rhodes Scholar in 2000. Added to her impressive list of accomplishments, Ms. Galvan also learned to play classical piano. Former President Bill Clinton is accomplished at the saxophone, and he too, was part of that distinguished Oxford alumni. Is it a coincidence that these academic scholars are so accomplished in the arts? Perhaps not.

Chairwoman Victoria Hodge Lightman of the Texas Commission on the Arts says, "We continue to see evidence that students involved in arts education programming perform better academically, are more likely to graduate and have fewer discipline problems than students without access to arts education programs. Unfortunately, we also see continued reduction in access to arts education as budgetary cuts result in the elimination of quality arts programming from our schools."

When we debate both locally, at the state level and even nationally how to raise the bar of public education, it is imperative that we include the arts, meaning music, art, dance and song.

The future success of our children could be dependent on the extent of their current participation in fine arts programs and the extent of the effects of fine arts instruction on their scholastic achievement, behavior, attention span, dropout rates, development and other areas.

A study conducted by the School of Fine Arts at California State University found that when a school includes the arts in its curriculum, its students experience improvement in reading, writing and math scores.

Stanford University and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching discovered in their study that the arts develop skills and habits of mind that are important for workers in the new "Economy of Ideas" (Alan Greenspan). Their findings link arts education with economic realities, asserting that young people who learn the rigors of planning and production in the arts will be valuable employees in the idea-driven workplace of the future.

And if we are to fulfill President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, which by the way remains largely unfunded, then the arts should be a strong component of a well-rounded education.

An article from the Journal of Learning Disabilities (1975) reported that first graders who received instruction in music listening had significantly higher reading scores than those first graders who did not receive this instruction but shared similarities in age, IQ and socioeconomic status.

To determine the impact of arts education on public school students in this state, the Texas Commission on the Arts, in partnership with the Texas Coalition on Quality Arts Education, is conducting a five-year, privately funded study. Besides the obvious, TCA decided to undertake this investigation because while many studies are being implemented on the national level, none have been designed to reflect the impact of Texas standards and indicators of high quality programs.

The Commission will be looking closely at two areas of concern:

1. Evidence indicates that school districts in Texas are redirecting resources (both time and money) away from the enrichment curriculum, notably the fine arts, to the core areas that are tested on the state's assessment system. As a result, even though instruction in the fine arts is mandated by the state, student participation is declining.

2. At the same time, evidence also indicates that instruction in the fine arts actually enhances student achievement in core areas. Thus, students may be deprived of required instruction that could not only enrich their learning but could also improve their performance in other areas of the curriculum.

We need to fund public education fairly and equitably. We need to reduce the heavy burden of taxes on property owners. We need to give teachers pay raises. We need to expand facilities funding to build badly needed schools, gymnasiums, libraries and other edifices critical to a well-rounded education. We need to determine the best method of educating our children and reducing dropout rates. And somewhere in this heavy mix, we must do all we can to see that arts education remains or becomes a required segment of public education in Texas."

As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.