For the past two decades, a combination of budget cuts to education and￼ No Child Left Behind has “left behind” some areas of instruction that are fundamental to a well-rounded education. Many public schools have “trimmed the fat” by eliminating what some consider to be low-stakes programs. These programs usually include the Performing Arts and Science, which are often the first to go. They are the unfortunate casualties of our National accountability measures for math and English Language Arts (ELA), which have triggered a brand new tunnel vision approach to American education.
In NYC, for example, it is quite common to find a high school which doesn’t offer any performing arts classes, or science electives. Music and art teachers have been excessed in exchange for literacy and math coaches. In the middle schools, students are often scheduled for two classes per day in ELA or math, but for no classes in science. The rational for this being that the school ratings are based on math and ELA scores, and there are no New York State exams in science for the 5th-7th graders. This practice of neglecting science instruction in grades 5-7 has been to blame for New York City’s 54% passing rate on the NYS 8th Grade Science Exam (a low-stakes test) in 2011. Science education is suffering throughout the nation as a whole.
In a time when U.S. scores in science have fallen far behind those of countries like South Korea, Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai in China and Canada, we should be asking ourselves, what is being done about it, and is it enough to make an impact?
Student interest in the performing arts and science have not waned over time. Neither has our society’s need for individuals with expertise in these fields. For a good picture of how educational program choices for students have dwindled over the years, one needs only skim through a few yearbooks. Compare the schools of the 50’s, 60’s, 70‘s and even 80‘s to today’s public schools. One thing you will notice immediately is the disparity between the number of programs, clubs, and events related to the performing arts and science, then and now.
There are many prominent scientists and artists who owe at least part of their success to their inner-city public school education. For example, here are some accomplished alumni of New York City public schools:
- Barbra Streisand- Singer/ Actor,
- “Shaggy”- Reggae Artist,
- Eric Kandell- Nobel Prize Winner,
- Albert A Kruger- Scientist/ Inventor,
- Clive Davis- Founder of Arista Records,
- Lena Horne- Singer,
- Isaac Asimov- Scientist/ Writer,
- Babara McClintock- Nobel Prize Winner,
- Stephanie Mills- Actress/Singer,
- Irwin Meyer- Producer/ Tony Award winner,
- Beverly Sills- Opera Singer,
- Aaron Copeland- Composer,
- Larry David- Producer/ writer and comedian,
- Harry Belafonte- Singer/ Actor,
- Woody Allen- Actor/Film director/ screenwriter,
- John Corigliano- Composer/ Pulitzer prize winner,
- Martin J. Fettman- Astronaut,
- Marisa Tomei- Actor,
- Spike Lee- Actor, director/producer/ screenwriter.
If students, thus society, have benefited from the well-rounded public education of those earlier years, why are we shortchanging this generation of students now?