Low-performing Inglewood, Compton schools try arts-based revamp

In this file photo, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama dances with pre-kindergarten students while she visits the Savoy School May 24, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Savoy School, once one of the lowest performing schools in the District of Columbia, has shown significant signs of improvement since being designated as part of the Turnaround Arts Initiative by the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Win McNamee/Getty Images

First Lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday announced the expansion of a program that uses the arts to improve academic performance.

The program, called Turnaround Arts, will now include 10 of California's lowest-performing schools, including Warren Lane Elementary in Inglewood and Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary in Compton.

The program infuses arts education access into struggling schools by providing musical instruments, art supplies, professional development for teachers and help from arts organizations. It began as a national initiative from the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and expands into six new states in the Fall. 

California's program will be the largest, serving 6,000 students  in Kings, San Bernardino, San Diego, Los Angeles, Alameda, Monterey, Humboldt, Jan Joaquin and Contra Costa counties this fall. All of the schools are within the bottom five percent of the most challenged schools in the country, according to the selection criteria. 

"I hope it means that arts education will become a model for all schools in the future," said architect Frank Gehry, one of several high-profile artists recruited to work with the schools. Gehry and former California Arts Council chair Malissa Feruzzi Shriver are spearheading the effort in California. 

Other big names that have signed on include Jason Mraz, Forest Whitaker, Rashida Jones, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Marc Anthony, Tim Robbins, Chad Smith, Kerry Washington and Russell Simmons. 

Turnaround Arts launched in May 2012 at eight low-achieving schools across the country. Officials said discipline dropped by nearly 80 percent at some schools and that English and math scores rose. They also credited the arts instruction with bringing up attendance and enrollment numbers. 

The expanded program will reach 35 schools with $5 million in funding over the next five years from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, and other companies and private foundations. Local program partners will also provide additional funding in each state.

"There are so many jobs in the creative industries," said Feruzzi Shriver, a longtime arts education advocate. She's signed on as the executive director of Turnaround Arts California  "We need to find better strategies to engage our students and to keep them in school and to educate them for college and careers."

The students who benefit the most from arts education, according to Feruzzi Shriver, often get the least access. This program seeks to change that. 

This story has been updated.