Bloomberg Announces Plan to Shore Up Arts in SchoolsBy Jennifer Median from NYTimes.com
Published: July 24, 2007
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced yesterday that the city’s Department of Education will require all schools to maintain arts programs, and that principals will be rated in their annual reviews on how well they run those programs.
The announcement came just months after the department infuriated arts groups by eliminating a multimillion-dollar program to finance arts education.
Under a new set of city standards, the arts curriculums will be judged for comprehensiveness, and potential pay bonuses for principals could be affected.
“An excellent arts education is essential,” the mayor said at a news conference at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan.
Last winter, the city schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, told several arts advocates that the department was planning to give principals discretion over $67.5 million that had previously been budgeted specifically for Project Arts, which financed arts education. The project, developed in the Giuliani administration, was intended to rebuild arts programs that were obliterated during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s.
Yesterday’s announcement was met with muted praise and skepticism from arts advocates, who have worried that if no money is targeted for the arts, principals in struggling schools will eliminate arts programs to devote more money to basic reading and math programs.
The Project Arts money was used to pay for a variety of things: supplies, teachers, dance and music instruction, artist residencies. Officials said the money was a fraction of the department’s spending on arts. The change in arts financing is part of a larger effort by the administration to give principals more control over how money is spent in their schools. But even as they give principals more authority over how to run their schools, officials are demanding that principals who do not meet requirements in math and reading — and now the arts — face being reassigned.
“I think experience has shown us that money alone will not improve student outcomes in the arts or any other subject,” the mayor said. “Money doesn’t make the difference, accountability does.”
...Under the new plan, arts will be part of the revamped school report cards to be issued starting this fall. The arts will be one factor used to judge a school’s “learning environment,” which will make up 15 percent of a school’s grade. A school will also receive an annual review of its program that will be used to determine whether the principal gets a performance bonus.
The department will also begin issuing an annual report in January about the arts programs in each school. That report will be developed partly by a newly formed arts education task force, which is made up of several leaders from arts groups around the city.
Richard Kessler, the executive director of the Center for Arts Education, which had been the most vocal critic of the plan to divert the money from Project Arts, said yesterday that his group would take a wait-and-see approach. “We applaud the public commitment of the mayor and chancellor that every single school will meet state requirements,” he said, “and that they will be holding every single principal accountable to meeting the state requirements.”
Chancellor Klein said the city was not backing off a commitment to reinvigorate arts programs. He has repeatedly acknowledged that the school system has a wide mix of programs that range from stellar to nonexistent. A few years ago, he introduced a “blueprint” for arts education. “I didn’t want the arts to be a throwaway, I didn’t want arts be some add-on, some feel-good thing,” Mr. Klein said yesterday. “Arts education is critical, but it’s got to be coherent.”