Statewide survey finds arts lacking in schools

Local districts provide bevy of art options

By: Chris Jackett | Royal Oak Review | Published October 10, 2012

ROYAL OAK — The arts may be flourishing locally, but there is some concern statewide.

According to a Michigan arts education study released by Royal Oak-based Michigan Youth Arts Sept. 13, about 108,000 students attend school daily without arts education. The four arts disciplines taken into consideration include music, visual arts — such as painting or crafts — theater and dance.

“It’s not just visual art. We tried to cover every discipline as best we could,” said Candy Smirnow, executive director of Michigan Youth Arts. “It’s a pretty comprehensive study. It’s something we worked on with the (Michigan) Department of Education and our partners.”

Survey info was gathered by Quadrant Arts Education Research, who asked 4,163 principals, including 718 private and 293 charter schools, to complete an online survey detailing numerous building-level specifics on arts education in their schools. Nearly 20 percent (826 schools) responded, representing 460,066 students, or about 30 percent of the total student population.

“The state has done a survey like this with all our partner organizations,” Smirnow said. “The most important facts that stood out to us was the per-pupil spending. We’re far below what other states are spending.”

The study revealed that the median annual spending for curricular support of arts education averages $4.39 per pupil in high school and $1.67 per pupil in elementary school, which amounts to 2.5 cents per day in high school and less than one penny per day in elementary school.

Other key findings showed between 6 and 8 percent of surveyed schools at each breakdown – high, middle and elementary – do not provide one arts course. Additionally, 12 percent of high schools do not meet the state graduation requirement of one credit in the arts.

“It was mandated by the governor a few years ago,” Smirnow said of the graduation requirement. “It’s just an accountability issue.”

About 33 percent of schools receive outside funding to support art education and 45 percent of schools said transportation costs created a significant barrier to arts-related field trips. However, the study also found that “high school students with higher levels of arts education perform better on the ACT and (Michigan Merit Exam) state exams across all socioeconomic categories.”

“Students at the high school can select from 20 different fine and performing arts course options listed in the course catalog,” Royal Oak Neighborhood Schools Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin said of his district via email. “At the high school level, budget constraints have caused us to increase the minimum number of students we need in a class in order to offer it, which means not all options are always in the schedule. However, enrollments in most of our fine and performing art classes are strong and, in some cases, growing.”

Both the RONS and Clawson Public Schools districts offer visual arts and music from the elementary school level and beyond. Fine or performing arts, such as band, orchestra and choir, become available starting in middle school in each district.

“Students can and do take art classes all the way through,” CPS Superintendent Monique Beels said. “I really think that art education is very, very important; art and music. If you look at the Common Core standard, you can’t lose sight of the whole child.

“I think one of the special things about Clawson is the orchestra program. If we get them interested in band or orchestra in fifth-grade, hopefully they’ll stick with band or orchestra.”

Although Royal Oak and Clawson school districts, along with most in Oakland County, have versatile art offerings, Smirnow said Michigan Youth Arts would be working with the MDE and other partner organizations to improve and expand art offerings throughout classrooms statewide.

Three focus areas will include professional preparation and development, student access and accountability. Smirnow also said the group is working to develop a recognition program for Model Schools in the Arts that offers a wide variety of art options.

“We’re going to be working with the Department of Education to determine what those Model Schools are,” Smirnow said.

To view the report, visit