Full-time art, music teachers: a dwindling breed?
Most schools cannot afford both a music and an art teacher; 66 schools have neither.
by Dale Mezzacappa
Once, the Philadelphia School District was a flagship for instruction in the arts, with certified music and art teachers in virtually every school. Today, it is struggling to rebuild that reputation as it faces tighter revenues, a shortage of qualified teachers, and pressure to spend more time on reading and math.
Today, less than a third of the city's public schools have both art and music teachers. The majority of the rest have one or the other, but 66 schools have neither, according to a Notebook analysis of teacher staffing patterns.
Increasingly, students are getting art and music instruction through extracurricular programs and short-term visits from outside artists, not as part of their everyday learning.
Still, CEO Paul Vallas maintains that the District is not “shortchanging” the arts. Among other things, he said, it is one of the few in the country to write a core curriculum for the arts, has expanded partnerships with local arts organizations, plans to open at least two new creative and performing arts high schools, started programs in Asian and Puerto Rican music, and recently invested $1.7 million to buy instruments to restore high school bands and orchestras.
“We've made progress in all areas except for full-time art and music teachers,” Vallas said. “Nobody can tell me there's been slippage here on my watch.”
As of May, 133 District schools – 50 percent – have no full-time music teacher, and 121 have no full-time art teacher (see list). These are higher numbers than four years ago, when Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth produced a report on declining numbers of art and music teachers just before Vallas took the reins of the District. That report said 82 schools did not have full-time art teachers, and 83 lacked full-time music teachers.
Since 2002-03, as District enrollment has declined, the number of art teachers in the District has declined by 16 percent, compared to a reduction in the overall teacher workforce of 5 percent. For music teachers, the decline has been about 7 percent.
Racially isolated schools, those at which more than 90 percent of the students are non-white, are somewhat more likely than other schools to lack music and art teachers. Seventy percent of the 66 schools with neither art nor music are racially isolated, compared to 62 percent of all District schools.
The median poverty rate of the schools with no art or music teacher is 79 percent, which is the same as the District's rate. However, few magnet schools or schools in the Northeast, which have the highest percentages of middle-class students, lack both art and music teachers.
The decision whether to hire or retain art and music teachers rests with principals, who must juggle testing demands and wish-lists with available funds. Most schools have seen their budgets and teacher allotments shrink over the past several years, even as they are being held more accountable for student progress.
Vallas said that much of the increase in schools without music or art is due to decisions by education management organizations (EMOs) to drop those subjects, not to choices by District-run schools. Over 40 schools were turned over by the SRC to EMOs in 2002 as part of a privatization reform strategy.
Another factor in the increase in the number of schools without art or music, Vallas said, has been the creation of more than a dozen new small high schools, whose budgets cannot support a wide diversity of offerings.
“The ideal is to have 17 or 18 kids in each class and an art and music teacher and librarian in every school,” said Vallas. “But funding doesn't permit that. We're doing everything we can within the resources we have.”
The federal No Child Left Behind law requires schools to improve reading and math test scores each year. While most city schools haven't reached NCLB's targets, test scores have been improving overall, especially in the lower grades.
But for art and music teachers used to developing children's creativity on a daily basis and finding and nurturing raw talent in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods, that is small consolation. The neediest children may be denied art and music instruction even where it's available because they must spend more time on reading and math skills, they say.
“One of the most serious omissions in the education of young people in Philadelphia is the shameful fact that most of our lowest-income children have no benefit of art or music in the daily program at their schools, not just 'afterschool' or 'occasional enrichment,' said Jo-Anna Moore, coordinator of art education at Tyler School of Art at Temple. “It is actually an income or class issue that the kids who could benefit dramatically from the richest and most diverse education opportunities have the least. Surely we know that this is wrong.”
Lynne Horoschak, her counterpart at Moore College of Art who spent 36 years in the District, said that the focus on reading and math skills has all but crowded out inventive, project-based learning.
“The ability to integrate is gone,” Horoschak said. “All the time is needed for reading/language arts and math.” Such projects as “having students write a play about the Renaissance” lose out because of the focus on test preparation. She said that when veteran art teachers retire, they're often not replaced, and programs they've spent years building die out.