Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism. Become a member today »

Brooklyn-based muralist Ellie Balk collaborated with art teacher Leslie Elvin and her students to design a colorful abstract map with a striped path that meanders through circle mandalas and reflects drawings made by the students after learning about street safety. (photo via NYC Dept. of Transportation’s Flickrstream)

New York State public schools administrators aren’t taking art seriously, according to a new report filed by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli last Tuesday. The audit sampled 310 students who attended 166 public high schools from 2007 to 2011 and found that between 46% and 64% of them graduated without ever meeting the the minimum arts education requirements. The report stated:

“This high error rate indicates a notable risk that the affected NYC DoE high school students are not obtaining an Arts education that complies with regulations. Therefore, those students may not be obtaining the benefits that research attributes to Arts education.”

Currently, the state only requires that students be taught by certified arts teachers, complete 108 hours of art instruction (or two semesters) and use a State Education Department-approved syllabus. But many of the students sampled had uncertified teachers, no syllabi or no proof of having completed the requirement to graduate.

Out of 205 art teachers, 99 were uncertified, though they taught 28% of the sample students. At 57 different schools, 90 students had never been given a syllabus. And though 111 schools provided documentation showing that 59% of sampled students received the required hours of arts education, the remaining 55 schools could not prove that 38% of the students received any arts instruction.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. High School on 122 Amsterdam Avenue is one of 412 high schools in New York. (courtesy of Facebook)

“Our audit reveals too many New York City schools may be cutting corners with arts education,” DiNapoli said. “We all want to find the right formula to improve education and improving arts instruction needs to be part of that equation.”

Official from the City Department of Education told the New York Daily News  that the errors were the result of poor documentation rather than proof that kids weren’t fulfilling the requirements. Department spokesman Harry Hartfield said that the agency was “committed to continuing to make sure that every student receives a high-quality arts education.”

Arts education has become a hot-button issue in New York of late. In the fall, Mayor Michael Bloomberg passed a law requiring the Department of Education to report annually on its arts education programs, while Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned on the promise to set schools on the path to arts education compliance.

Its unfortunate that New York City public schools, situated in one of the world’s greatest art meccas, have missed the memo that art and education are indelibly linked. As the Kennedy Center stated in its National Standards for Arts Education,

“…the arts have been an inseparable part of the human journey; indeed, we depend on the arts to carry us toward the fullness of our humanity. We value them for themselves, and because we do, we believe knowing and practicing them is fundamental to the healthy development of our children’s minds and spirits.  That is why, in any civilization – ours included – the arts are inseparable from the very meaning of the term ‘education.’  We know from long experience that no one can claim to be truly educated who lacks basic knowledge and skills in the arts.”

Support Hyperallergic

As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever. 

Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.

Become a Member

Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...