Turnaround Arts seeks to raise student achievement

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A new program, the Turnaround Arts Initiative, is putting the arts back into the schools that need them most. The White House-backed initiative comes at a time when arts programs are increasingly threatened by budget cuts and funding shortfalls.

Turnaround Arts Initiative

Named for the concept that the arts can "turn around" kids who are struggling in school, and transform them into engaged, successful students, Turnaround Arts will infuse eight low-performing schools with music, visual arts, dance and drama programming over the course of two years. The public-private partnership is designed to narrow the achievement gap and increase student engagement through the arts. Research shows the arts can inspire students to master their academic subjects in a way few other programs can.

The targeted schools are among the lowest-performing 5 percent in their states; they already receive $14.7 million in federal school improvement grants. The new initiative will add $1 million more from private funders such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, the Aspen Institute and others. The resources will pay for in-school training for educators, partnerships with community organizations, community engagement events and an Aspen Institute leadership program for the principal and two teachers from each school. Crayola is donating $10,000 in arts supplies to each school, and the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation is giving $10,000 worth of musical instruments.

To add star power, famous artists, musicians and dancers are adopting the schools, working with students and teachers to enrich the curriculum. Among them are actors Sarah Jessica Parker, Kerry Washington, Forest Whitaker and Alfre Woodard; musician Yo-Yo Ma; painter Chuck Close; and New York City Ballet dancer Damian Woetzel.

Turnaround Arts is backed by a powerful report from the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, "Reinvesting in Arts Education." Among its findings: low-income children who participate in arts education are four times more likely to experience high academic achievement, and three times more likely to attend school frequently. Once they graduate, the advantages continue: These children are more likely to attend and excel in college, build careers, volunteer in their communities and vote.

One study shows that schools focused on integrating art into the curricula reduced the reading gap by 14 percentage points and the math gap by 26 percentage points over a three-year period, compared with control schools that did not have an arts focus, where the number of proficient students decreased by 4.5 percent.

"Arts and music education are absolutely critical to providing all students with a world-class, well-rounded education, and nowhere are they more essential than in the low-performing schools participating in the School Improvement program," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "I am grateful that the President's Committee and its partners are showing leadership to engage students in these schools with arts and music."

The participating schools are Batiste Cultural Arts Academy at Live Oak School (preK-8) in New Orleans; Findley Elementary School (preK-5) in Des Moines, Iowa; Lame Deer Junior High School (7-8) in Lame Deer, Mont.; Martin Luther King Jr. School (K-8) in Portland, Ore.; Noel Community Arts School (6-7) in Denver; Orchard Gardens School (K-8) in Boston; Roosevelt School (K-8) in Bridgeport, Conn.; and Savoy Elementary School (preK-5) in Washington, D.C. [Virginia Myers/photo by Chad Pilster]

May 4, 2012