These posts are the opinions of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of A+ Colorado.

Denver school reform group wants more consistent, better arts education

Originally posted on Denver Post, September 12th, 2012. Copyright ©
Written by Karen Auge.

The study by A+, an independent group that advocates for school reform, points out that numerous studies link overall academic achievement with arts participation. And while arts education prepares students for work in creative industries, it also enriches kids who will become nurses or chemists or math professors, the authors argue.

Denver Public Schools officials don’t disagree. “Arts are a critical component of a well-rounded education,” the district said in a written statement.

But, like everything else, high-quality arts education costs money and that has been in short supply in schools around the state.

“State funding cuts have forced many schools to reduce the number of arts programs,” the statement said.

The report’s release follows closely the school board’s decision to ask voters for a $49 million mill levy override. If passed, $11 million of that would go toward “the expansion of enrichment programs throughout DPS schools,” including art and music, according to the district.

In the meantime, few benchmarks or goals for measuring success in arts education exist, the report said. And it criticized the district for using outdated standards — namely the number of credentialed teachers in arts fields — to track how it spends the money it now has for arts education.

The report estimated that the 315.5 full-time DPS arts teachers translate to $21 million a year spent on arts education, or about 4.2 percent of the district’s total budget.

Despite the obstacles, the report committee, which included school board President Mary Seawell, former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, arts and business leaders, found bright spots. Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy exposes 770 mostly low-income students to a rich arts curriculum. Polaris at Ebert Elementary School incorporates art into virtually every subject. And the Denver School of the Arts middle and high schools are gaining national reputations.

But a by-product of greater autonomy among schools has been inconsistency when it comes to arts, the authors suggest.

Moreover, opportunities for low-income kids to get access to the district’s standout arts programs are limited. DSA, for example, requires students to audition or submit portfolios to be admitted. “The fact is that few low-income families have the same access to private instruction as wealthier families do, so they are at a disadvantage as far as preparation goes,” the report states.

Last year, only 13 percent of DSA students were considered low-income, compared with 73 percent district-wide.

Karen Auge: 303-954-1733, or