California arts education is in dire need of a radical overhaul. Seventy-five percent of Ohio's students participate in the arts in classrooms, yet only 39 percent of California's students do. How did we get here? More importantly, how do we get back to where we were before California stopped funding the arts?
There have been dramatic decreases in arts education in California schools since the 1970s, severely impacting low-income and black and Latinx students. A series of policy changes left California schools with less money, fewer trained teachers, and a generation of students with little to no arts exposure. State budget woes forced schools to make difficult decisions about their diminished funds. High-stakes testing has narrowed the focus of learning and denied many students the opportunity to take an art class despite their availability in schools.
But creativity is essential for childhood growth and development, and we’re all born with innate creativity, so what happens as we grow older? Life — and the people in it who tell us the arts aren’t as important as STEM — stifles our inborn creative powers. The irony of the rise in standardized testing is that researchers from UCLA found that 25,000 middle and high school students with high arts involvement performed better on standardized tests than students who did not participate in the arts.
Scientists George Land and Beth Jarman developed a test on behalf of NASA to measure the creative nature of engineers and scientists. Land and Jarman ended up administering the test to 1600 school children in an attempt to decipher where creativity comes from — are we born with it? Some more than others? Do we generate creativity over time naturally, or we do we have to work at it?
The scientists found 98 percent of children aged 4-5 fell into the creative genius category, but failed to live up to the same expectations years later. At 10-years-old, only 30 percent of the children tested remained creative geniuses. At 15? Only 12 percent. And as adults, an astonishing 2 percent still passed with flying colors.
The takeaway from this study is that 98 percent of us were born with creative genius, and creativity is a muscle we must nourish and flex to remain healthy. If we don’t feed our brains, that creativity can vanish — for some of us, forever.
That’s why we need the arts. Practicing the arts ensures the next generation’s children grow up flourishing in creativity, capable either of pursuing a creative path or STEAM field after college. After all, so-called soft skills are favored over hard skills as essential to employment — skills like problem-solving, decision-making, time management, communication, and visual learning. In fact, seventy-two percent of business leaders say the top talent they’re looking for in job candidates is creativity. The arts have also been proven to increase civic engagement and social tolerance, and reduce “othering” behavior — behaviors absolutely vital to equity in the next generation of children.
Evidence from Americans for the Arts even suggests children who engage in the arts for just three hours per day — for a minimum of three days a week — are four times more likely to achieve academic excellence than children who don’t participate in the arts.
The social and educational benefits of arts learning are obvious. And the skills learned from the arts are apparent. But we must continue gathering data so we can prove these facts to California’s policymakers who don’t believe the arts deserve more funding. That’s why it’s so important to know your local data and be familiar with the Arts Education Data Project.
We’re done with incremental change. At this rate, it will take nearly a century to make sure all students in California have necessary arts education. Follow our data and understand that, while we’ve made progress, it’s just not enough. We need to do better for our kids and their kids, and for all future generations who deserve a balanced and complete education.
Check back with Create CA as we’ll frequently provide the latest information and tools you can use to make a change in arts education in your district.