New Jersey Shines a Light on Arts Education

February 10, 2014

A New Jersey state government agency offered some outstanding news last week. Surprised? Don’t be.  The New Jersey Department of Education released the 2013 School Performance Reports and for the very first time in the nation arts measures were included.  The reports are designed to inform parents, educators and students how a school is preparing for the future and are chock full of data on academic achievement and college and career readiness.

The New Jersey Arts Education Partnership (NJAEP) has guided policy development toward inclusion of arts measures over many years.  The NJAEP is a co sponsored project of the NJ State Council on the Arts and the ArtPride NJ Foundation, with additional support from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the NJ Dept. Of Education, the Prudential Foundation, and Quadrant Research. Yes, it takes a lot more than a village to put New Jersey in the vanguard of arts education!

So what does this data really mean? The measures for arts education include the percentage of high school students enrolled in each arts area (Dance, Music, Theater and Visual Art) and the percentage of the total school population enrolled in the arts. Schools and communities will also be able to compare their results to the averages for the entire state. In New Jersey a total of 47.3% of high school students are enrolled in one or more arts disciplines (representing 184,011 students). Among the disciplines visual art has the greatest percentage of enrollment at 30.2% (117,613 students) followed by music at 16.7% (64,843 students), theater at 3.5% (12,612 students) and Dance at 1.8% (7,095 students).

Why is inclusion of the arts in School Performance Reports such a big deal? New Jersey has long had some of the strongest requirements for arts education in the nation. Since 1996, the visual and performing arts (Dance, Music, Theater and Visual Arts) have been a part of the New Jersey Core Curricular Content Standards and are part of the state’s graduation requirements. Additionally, New Jersey was the first state to conduct a mandated study to document access, participation and quality of arts education. Now measuring the arts in annual School Performance Reports continues the legacy of assuring that New Jersey students have a well-rounded education that prepares them for the 21st Century workplace.

To get the full picture, I invite you to tour the NJDOE SPR web site and enter the name of your local high school (data is restricted to high schools at this point in time).  I checked out my alma mater, East Brunswick High School that also happens to be a model school in the arts.  Here’s what I learned:

The inclusion of this data now provides a baseline for future comparison and analysis, keeping schools accountable for high quality arts education and compliance with core curriculum content standards.  Congratulations to the NJ Arts Education Partnership for their diligence in assuring that there is yet another tool for parents, educators and students to access as they advocate for a strong arts education component in school districts throughout the state.

Images courtesy of ArtPride

Ann Marie Miller is the Executive Director of ArtPride, the premier arts advocacy organization in New Jersey, and a regular contributor to the Dodge blog.