Arts education has long been recognized by experts around the world as having a tremendously positive influence on children and their academic attainment, social emotional development and future employment. The skills learned from arts education are more relevant today than ever, as New York City’s economy is increasingly focused on industries that value creativity, innovation and problem solving.

Despite these widely-acknowledged benefits, as well as clearly established mandates in New York State Education Law requiring that students in grades 7-12 receive core arts instruction taught by certified teachers, the provision of arts education in New York City’s public schools has become both inequitable and underfunded. Instruction in visual arts, music, dance and theater has been weakened by a decade of disinvestment and disincentives and a school accountability system – based on federal and state priorities – that fails to fully recognize the value of comprehensive arts education.

Figures from the New York City Department of Education’s (DOE) Annual Arts in Schools Reports show a 47 percent decline in spending to hire arts and cultural organizations to provide educational services for students, and an even steeper decline in spending on arts supplies and equipment over the past seven years. While schools have had access to “supplemental arts funding” intended for arts education, many schools have opted to divert these funds to non-arts related areas.

As a result, many of the City’s public schools are in violation of New York State Law, which sets minimal instruction requirements that schools must meet for the arts at each grade level, and deep disparities exist between schools at all grade levels. This report provides a first-ever school-by-school breakdown of the state of arts education in the public schools, and contextualizes the results with data on the city’s economic landscape. Findings include:

  • 419 schools in New York City (28 percent) lack even one full-time, certified arts teacher, including 20 percent of all high schools (76), 22 percent of all middle schools (59) and 38 percent of all elementary schools (232);
  • 306 schools (20 percent) have neither a full- nor a part-time certified arts teacher, including 14 percent of all high schools (53), 13 percent of all middle schools (34) and 30 percent of all elementary schools (182); and
  • 16 percent of schools have no arts or cultural partnerships and 10 percent of schools have no dedicated arts room.

Furthermore, it is clear that reductions in arts education have fallen disproportionately on the City’s lower income neighborhoods, especially the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn. While these two neighborhoods are home to just 31 percent of all City schools, this report found that:

  • More than 42 percent of schools that lack either full-time or part-time certified arts teachers are located in the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn; and
  • Nearly half of the schoolsthat lack both a certified artsteacher and an arts or cultural partnership are located in the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn.

With new leadership at the New York City Department of Education, now is an ideal time to identify challenges that exist to meeting State arts mandates and expanding arts education to all City neighborhoods, and offer recommendations for achieving these goals. In the cultural capital of the world, arts education and the opportunities it provides must be equally accessible to all.

The report makes the following recommendations:

  • Broaden the DOE accountability framework, including School Progress Reports, to include arts education. As part of a larger review of School Progress Reports, the DOE should include information in every school profile about certified arts teachers, partnerships with arts and cultural organizations, dedicated arts rooms and compliance with State mandates in arts instruction.
  • Promote strategies that build schools’ capacity to have at least one certified arts teacher on staff. Every elementary, middle and high school should have at least one certified arts teacher, and more where appropriate. DOE should work with schools serving grades 7-12 to comply with State mandates for certified arts teachers. Where feasible, small schools should be encouraged to share arts teachers.
  • Build schools’ capacity to provide a robust arts education by expanding outreach to potential cultural partners.The DOE should provide additional supports to schools lacking cultural partnerships, including helping to connect and pair them with arts and cultural organizations. The DOE currently hosts one “Cultural Fair” each year to encourage arts and cultural organizations to partner with city schools. This outreach should be expanded to include similar fairs in all five boroughs at least once a year.
  • Adopt a “no-net loss” of space policy as part of a larger effort to increase arts rooms and to ensure that every school has places equipped for the arts. Although finding or creating new space for dedicated arts rooms in New York City will always be a challenge, the DOE should ensure that there is “no-net loss” of arts rooms when district schools are co-located with other district or charter schools. DOE’s Educational Impact Statements (EIS) should clearly specify how DOE will preserve existing dedicated arts rooms. Further, future school planning and construction should include dedicated arts spaces.
  • Ensure adequate funding to support quality arts education at all city schools. The DOE should prioritize supports for arts education in schools that have yet to meet at least the minimum standards set by the City and State, and break out arts spending in its budget so the public can see how much is being spent on a school-by-school basis.

In the end, providing every child in New York City with a robust arts education should be more than an aspiration. It should be viewed as an essential component of a 21st century curriculum – one that all our students should have the opportunity to enjoy