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A report published today by New York City’s comptroller found that more than 28% of city public schools lack a certified arts educator, in violation of “clearly established mandates in New York State Education Law.” The study used NYC Department of Education and U.S. Census Bureau data to measure the losses in arts resources — instructors, classrooms, partnership with arts or cultural organizations — against district demographics, further finding that the disadvantages accrued overwhelmingly to poorer districts, with 55% of schools without arts educators located in the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn. (See interactive map below.)
Touting itself as the “first-ever school-by-school breakdown of the state of arts education in the public schools,” the report follows the announcement yesterday of Queens Museum president Tom Finkelpearl’s appointment as Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, suggesting a coalescing cultural policy vision for the de Blasio administration as it approaches its hundredth day in office. But the city, which remains in intense negotiations with teachers’ unions, also faces a challenge to scarce arts classrooms in the form of charter schools, which operate in an uneasy public-private alliance and have resulted in encroachment on public school resources. “We lost our library and a bunch of classrooms that year,” the parent of a public school special education student told the New York Daily News of 2006, the year flagship charter school Harlem Success Academy was launched.
The comptroller’s report addresses the issue in its recommendations section, advocating for a “no-net loss” policy on instances when “district schools are co-located with other district or charter schools.” This may prove challenging, however, especially since of those schools that currently lack dedicated art classrooms, 34% are located in the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn, a disparity that lags behind the staffing inequality but is still a significant burden to already overwhelmed and underfunded schools.
Two additional recommendations in the report — greater transparency in Department of Education arts funding, “promot[ing] strategies that build schools’ capacity to have at least one certified arts teacher on staff” — basically restate stipulations that are already on the books. The final and most paradigmatic recommendation stands to shift the priorities of the Department of Education’s metrics to account for arts education by “broadening [the] DOE accountability framework, including School Progress Reports.” This would be a welcome development, to say the least: incorporating considerations for arts education within the Department of Education’s bureaucratic logic would be a crucial step in addressing the previously unaccounted-for disparities in the provision of educational services to the city’s least advantaged.