Arts advocates and educators are excited that the Los Angeles Unified School District Board voted unanimously in October to make arts a "core subject."
But making that desire a reality is complicated. Educators face a host of questions: What should be included in the arts curriculum? What should be classified as “arts?” How can the arts play a greater role in public education in a time of lean budgets, when political priorities are on improving test scores in areas such as math and English? Even determining the current amount of arts education is tricky.
The effort to redefine arts in school is not only happening in L.A.; it's going on across the country, as educators begin to implement new national curriculum standards.
The renewed focus on arts comes after what arts educators call years of curriculum narrowing following the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001; a focus on test scores has usually meant less time and resources for the arts, they say.
L.A. Unified unveiled a state-of-the-art science facility in Glassell Park Monday that bears the name of the late astronaut Sally Ride, in hopes of inspiring a new generation of students to pursue careers in math and science.
The Sally Ride Center for Environmental Science is a $4.8 million LEED-certified facility that sits behind the Sonia M. Sotomayor Learning Academies. The 6,000 square foot facility, less than a mile from the L.A. River, includes three state-of-the-art labs that will focus on areas such as hydrology and energy. The labs have high-tech, professional grade equipment, including a photovoltaic demonstration system, a PH water lab, a centrifuge, and field spectrometers.
The site will be used not only as a hands-on science lab for students who will conduct water and soil testing and energy conservation research, but also to train teachers.
In the last five years, funding for arts education at L.A. Unified has dropped from a budgeted high of $78.6 million in 2007-8 to $18.6 million this year. The district has committed to returning funds to the 2007-8 levels.
In the last five years, funding for arts education at L.A. Unified has dropped from a budgeted high of $78.6 million to $18.6 million.
The 76 percent drop in funding equates to about $60 million, and is the result of a dramatic decrease in state support and the district's need to constrict its budget in response.
With a greater awareness for the importance of arts education today, LAUSD hasn't singled out the arts for cuts as much as before, but still cuts have happened amid the economic downturn.
"When things start getting cut, legal mandates win, and other things fall to the wayside," said L.A. Unified senior arts coordinator Steven McCarthy. He's now the only staffer of the school district's "arts education branch," which used to include about 20 people.
On Tuesday, the L.A. Unified school board unanimously approved a measure that will make arts education a "core subject," prohibit further cuts to the arts, and ultimately restore some money to arts programs.
Actor Cheech Marin of Cheech & Chong fame addresses the L.A. Unified school board about the importance of arts education and why it should be a 'core subject.' The board agreed unanimously. (Oct. 9, 2012)
The L.A. Unified school board unanimously approved a measure Tuesday that will make arts education a "core subject," prohibit further cuts to the arts, and ultimately restore some money to arts programs.
The measure, sponsored by board member Nury Martinez, is a recommitment to the arts by a district that has been battered by $1.5 billion in cuts to its operating budget over the last three years as state support for education has dwindled.
"For me this is an issue of social justice and educational equity," Martinez said. "...Children learn in many different ways...we have to recognize that a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching and learning doesn't work for all children."
On Tuesday, comic actor Cheech Marin of Cheech & Chong addressed the board in support for the measure.
"Arts education goes to making a whole person, it makes them aware of their divine nature, and gives them sympathy for everybody around them," Marin said. "We as a culture, art is the only thing we leave behind. For the life of me, I can't think of a museum dedicated to the great business deals of the past, but 2,000 years later people go see the pyramids, the 'Mona Lisa,' the Eiffel Tower, and Picasso's 'Guernica.'"
With song, dance and star-power tweets by Justin Bieber and Ryan Seacrest, the LA Fund for Public Education launched a $4 million campaign — and the largest initiative in city history — to revitalize arts education at the Los Angeles Unified School District.
At an event at East Los Angeles Performing Arts Academy, dozens of students along with school board member Nury Martinez danced to The Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" and Beyonce's "Move Your Body" to celebrate the new campaign.
"Arts Matter," with CBS Outdoor as a primary sponsor, will feature the work of L.A.-based artist Barbara Kruger on about a dozen city buses and on hundreds of billboards, bus shelters, wall postings, mall media and bulletins, LA Fund officials say.
"You can go from DreamWorks to Amgen, from Boeing to Mattel, they all say their No. 1 challenge is finding creative thinkers who can problem solve and who have the capacity and desire to learn new ways of doing things in an increasingly competitive market place," said LA Fund Chair Megan Chernin.