The Programme for International Student Assessment (or PISA) is a test given to fifteen-year-old students around the world. It tests the student’s abilities in math, science, and reading. While not many people know that PISA is the name of the test, many people are familiar with its results and how it is changing our schools. America suddenly found themselves very worried when they found themselves scoring in the middle of the pack in comparison to other countries around the world. The most recent PISA that was given happened in 2015. In 2015, The United States of America scores ranked them at 38th amongst 71 countries in math; in science, they ranked 24th among the same 71 countries.

While this could be the subject of a very interesting article that I may write later, I wanted to focus more on the impact that this startling news had on American education. What we found after this test was a renewed interest and focus on science, technology, engineering, and math. Programs popped up everywhere in different schools that featured pictures of students building with legos or wearing safety goggles while performing a science experiment. 

One unintentional but real side effect of this new focus was a sudden neglect in fine arts. Because of movements like, “No Child Left Behind,” and the Common Core Initiative, math and science were pushed more forcefully into classrooms. Suddenly, schools (especially underfunded schools) were putting their music, drama, dance, and arts programs on the back burner if they were there at all. By the end of the year, it has been estimated that nearly 25% of fine arts programs will be cut from high schools around the nation due to budget cuts.

Statistics Regarding Fine Arts

The National Endowment for the Arts released a study in 2012 that showed introducing fine arts to students in low-income neighborhoods improved their scores in all sorts of areas. This success didn’t stop in school. It also correlated with better opportunities in the workforce.

The Arts Education Partnership published a series of research outcomes from 62 studies involving over a hundred researchers. It was one of the first studies to find correlations between Fine Arts education and other types of education.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

One of these included a study that involved 25,000 students. High levels of art involvement took the win again as students who integrated fine arts into their math class (and any other curriculum) consistently scored higher than their peers who did not have fine arts education.

Evidence from the same published research teams showed that art could reach students who were otherwise disengaged. It brought students together for a better environment. Art helped the kids who had unique gifts. It challenged the students who were already successful, and it increased self-directed learning. It likewise promoted healthy social skills.

A study done by the Missouri Arts Center and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education showed that involvement in the arts was also correlated with better classroom behavior. The amount of intervention required to keep a class in control lessened with the increase in arts learning.

A study conducted by a non-arts related research group, College Board, found that students who took four years of fine arts scored 91 points higher on their SAT tests.

In countless research results, we find the same conclusion. Fine arts education improves learning. It helps with long term retention (based on a study that gave delayed testing). Fine arts helped students become more prepared for high school math classes and college-level math. Fine art improved the environment of the classroom.

Arguments for Keeping Fine Arts

Helps to improve all aspects of a student’s life.

The first argument for keeping fine arts is going to stem from the research we discussed just before this. Fine arts programs help to improve all aspects of a student’s life. Beyond looking at an improved school environment, social skills, and creative learning, fine arts education directly correlates with improved scores in literacy, math, and science. Isn’t that the point we articulated for cutting the programs? With budget cuts flooding American schools combined with the unfortunate news that America isn’t ranking well on an international standardized test, means that schools are trying to cut funding in one area to save another. Unfortunately, this occurs at their own expense and at the expense of the students. Fine Arts education is only serving to help students in their math courses, science experiments, and reading. Not to mention, it’s reaching lower-income students and students who traditionally fall by the wayside in school.

Serves to create “well-rounded citizens”

A Fine Arts education serves to create “well-rounded citizens” who hold an appreciation for all types of learning. Well-rounded citizens were one of the main goals of American education until it moved towards preparing students to enter the workforce instead. Developing an appreciation for other types of learning automatically comes with an appreciation for different types of people.

Imagine the scenario of an elementary student who excels in school. It’s easy for this student. He can easily sit still and memorize facts. Imagine how he looks at the student next to him who can neither control their urges to speak out or stop fidgeting. When you’re young, it’s easy to think that there’s simply something wrong with the kids who can’t compete in a classroom setting. Imagine how different this same student might feel about his classmate after discovering his peer excels in dance and music. There’s a newfound respect. Students are able to discover other kinds of learning and find appreciation for it.

Reach students that would otherwise be left behind

Along those same lines, a Fine Arts education can reach students that would otherwise be left behind. There are many different kinds of learners, and the traditional classroom simply does not fit everyone. Gillian Lyne was one of these students. Originally, Lyne found herself struggling and falling behind in school. She was frequently finding herself in trouble. It was only when a dedicated school principal stepped in that things changed for her. Lyne’s parents were brought in to speak with the principal, and he asked the parents to step out of the room with him. He turned on some light music, and left Lyne in the office as he stepped out with the parents. They watched as Lyne began to sway and fidget and move.

fine arts
Image by Pam Simon from Pixabay

The principal then informed Lyne’s parents that she wasn’t a troublemaker; she was a dancer. Her parents went on to enroll her in dance classes. She was astounded to find that there were other people who felt, thought, and moved like she did. Gillian Lyne went on to become a famous ballerina and then sealed her legacy as a gifted human being when she choreographed the Broadway Musical, “Cats.” Imagine the loss the world might experience without these kinds of students being given opportunities to learn in different ways. Not only would the student struggle significantly, but there would have been other significant loses had a Fine Arts education not been extended. Imagine the works we could come across by extending those kinds of classes to more students. Ironically, the “No Child Left Behind” movement that pushed for math and science left some students far behind.

Encourages students to try

It’s easy for kids to make art. They love it. It’s not hard for them to create something new and love it without comparing it to others. By the time they reach their teenage years, a lot of these students have lost that easiness. While it may “make sense” to argue that kids don’t need to be able to draw in order to succeed in life, it doesn’t make sense to ignore the fact that kids are afraid to create something new. Why are they afraid? Because they have been ingrained to believe that making mistakes is one of the worst things they could do. 

fine arts
Photo by Lucas Pezeta from Pexels

We may be building students who know how to follow the rules of math, science, and engineering (and even that’s debatable considering the fact that America continues to score in the middle of the pack even after all of these new initiatives screaming for STEM emphasis in the classroom), but we are not building students who know how to take those rules and make new discoveries or invent technology that is going to further society as we know it. They are too afraid to make mistakes that they refuse to try something new.

Art helps to combat this idea mistakes are the end of the world. Art allows room for self-expression and the idea that there are many “correct” processes and results. We need more of this in America. America has always infinitely excelled in creating the next “new.” By draining this creativity from every aspect of our education system, we are draining these skills and taking away what helped America to compete globally in the first place.


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