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Importance of an Arts Education

A new report published by the National Endowment for the Arts can help you show your constituents the power of the arts to transform lives. The report shows that arts involvement can be a critical factor in whether low-income students graduate from high school, attend college, and become active in community life. It's an essential read for anyone working to secure arts funding or close the academic achievement gap.

The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies compares outcomes for a nationally representative sample of nearly 72,000 U.S. children and/or teenagers gathered between 1988 and 2012, with a focus on low-income students. Among the findings:

  • Low-income students who earned few or no arts credits in high school were five times less likely to have graduated than students who earned many arts credits.
  • 39 percent of low-income students who had high arts involvement attended a four-year college after graduation, compared with 17 percent who had little or no arts involvement.
  • Mean GPAs were 2.94 among low-income students with high arts involvement, compared with 2.55 for students with low arts involvement.
  • Eighth-graders who had high levels of arts involvement from kindergarten through elementary school had significantly higher test scores in science and writing than students who had lower levels of arts involvement over the same period.
This report is a milestone both because of the sheer number of students whose data it includes, as well as its comprehensive analysis of how much, and what kind, of arts involvement correlates with better student outcomes.

Once upon a time, the arts were widely accepted in the U.S. as part of a complete education. But high-stakes testing and cuts to education funding have resulted in the disappearance of the arts from many schools, particularly those that serve low-income learners. Rather than eliminate the arts, we should harness their power to help students who need it most. The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth will be an important tool in helping move the case for increased school arts funding forward. It's available online at www.nea.gov/research/Arts-At-Risk-Youth.pdf.