Arts-education in urban schools: What are districts really afraid of?   2 comments

Bryan Keith, one of my new Facebook friends, posted a link a few days ago about the Betty Shabazz International Charter School. The school was founded in 1998 by Dr. Carol Lee, her husband Haki Madhubuti, and several other prominent community leaders.  I was fascinated to learn about this school because I had never heard of it. (I guess if it was started and managed by a big-box chain, we would have seen it on the news or in the Washington Post by now.) The idea of providing a curriculum that encourages Black students to learn about their own history, as a way of promoting an interest in the broader curriculum, has been mentioned during several of the #BlackEd chats on Twitter (Thursdays, 9 PM EST). More importantly, the school adopts an interdisciplinary approach to instruction, allowing students to draw on their strengths in the arts, writing, oral tradition, and the humanities. Sounds very familiar to what I wanted to do in Gwinnett County.

Despite my awe and inspiration from reading about the school, I couldn’t help but ask: Why can’t we have something like this in our community? I really try to avoid painting all people (of any group) with a broad stroke, but sometimes the answers are just too obvious. But I can’t help but wonder: What are they really afraid of? If we create a school that supports and encourages active participation in the arts, why would the district tell us that it is not possible to develop a schedule to accommodate such classes? There are schools that have been offering such programs for decades, all the while producing some of the top scholars within the state. Check out DeKalb School of the Arts. DSA is a magnet school but draws students from all parts of DeKalb County, thereby creating a diverse student body, both culturally and economically. Although DAS is not a Title I school, 32% of its students qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch (FARL). That figure is small when compared to others in the district and is likely a direct result of no district-sponsored transportation. Despite that obstacle, DAS still enrolls a majority-minority student population, with 64% African Americans and 2% Hispanic/Latino; 26% of the student population is White. So how have the students* at DAS performed on state-mandated tests (not that testing is the ultimate measure-just for the sake of the educrats)?

  • 2008-09 GA Grad Test ELA (AFAM): 15% PASS/85% PASS PLUS
  • 2008-09 GA Grad Test Math (AFAM): 41% PASS/59% PASS PLUS
  • 2008-09 GA Grad Test ELA (FARL): 15% PASS/85% PASS PLUS
  • 2008-09 GA Grad Test Math (FARL): 54% PASS/46% PASS PLUS

Let’s look at the demographics of the district: DeKalb is a Title I district, with 66% of students qualifying for Free and Reduced Lunch; 74% African American students (compared to 38% for the state) and 9% Hispanic/Latino (compared to 10% for the state).  Here are system-wide performance stats on the same aforementioned test:

  • 2008-09 GA Grad Test ELA (AFAM): 12% FAIL/46% PASS/42% PASS PLUS
  • 2008-09 GA Grad Test Math (AFAM): 9% FAIL/60% PASS/30% PASS PLUS
  • 2008-09 GA Grad Test ELA (FARL): 15% FAIL/49% PASS/37% PASS PLUS
  • 2008-09 GA Grad Test Math (FARL): 10% FAIL/ 61% PASS/28% PASS PLUS

There is a noticeable difference in the average performance of DAS students and those enrolled in other DeKalb schools. Now I know that I am not the only one who can view the data and arrive at some basic conclusions, one of them being that kids at the arts school do perform better than kids at traditional schools. Districts have unlimited financial and human resources at their disposal, so why don’t they start looking at the things that have worked and start replicating? Believe it or not, it is much easier for school districts to replicate and/or start charters and magnets than it is for a grassroots group to do the same. But here’s the catch: These schools need to be located in the communities where they are needed the most: Urban communities, which also happen to be predominantly African American and Hispanic/Latino. By doing so, lack of transportation will not serve as a barrier to deserving kids like it is for Gwinnett’s Math, Science, and Technology Charter School. Food for thought: Edreform initiatives that won’t cost much because the buildings are already standing, the teaching staff is at the ready, and students are clamoring for something new. Would I be too cynical if I claimed that some districts really do not want to see black, brown, and poor kids succeed because that success, in essence, would then dry-up the additional federal funds? Imagine what would happen if fewer minority and low-income kids were referred to and serviced by Special Education? You do know that districts get funds for students in multiple categories, right? If little Johnny receives free lunch and is labeled as EBD, the district receives funds for both categories. Now imagine the money the district would receive for Miguelito, who is also an English Language Learner (ELL). You get my drift. There is no excuse for students to not receive the level of services they need.

Then again, who am I? I’m not an expert, just a lady with a little common sense, which obviously makes me over-qualified for anything education-related.

*The number of Hispanic/Latino students tested was too small so the school was not required to report those results.*

2 responses to “Arts-education in urban schools: What are districts really afraid of?

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  1. Well stated. It’s worth noting that not only do kids involved in the arts do better in other subjects, but they learn lessons that transcend the classroom. That will be especially in a 21st century job market where creativity and the sensitivities of the artist will be in greater demand.

    You might enjoy the following article at my blog:
    FROM THE BAND ROOM TO THE BOARDROOM…The 9 Common Lessons of Music Education That Translate into Success

    http://bizmusician.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/435/

  2. Arts are essential for well-rounded education experiences. They definitely play a role in student achievement and success.

    That said, the DeKalb School of the Arts has admissions requirements that require at least 80 percentile on a national standardized test and, if I recall correctly, a 3.0 grade point average. Students must maintain standards or they can be (and they are) asked to leave.

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