A picture is worth a thousand words!  In art, students have fun, explore, create, and learn.  Artistic learning builds neuronal connections that help students think in out-of-the-box ways.  So why do we, politicians and educational leaders, constantly struggle to value arts in education or the many other programs that support creativity and innovation in our schools.

I hate to put the challenge in “military terms,” but I think it may come to that if we want to advance innovation and creativity as important initiatives in elementary and secondary education.  The political landscape in this country is not friendly to programs that are “out of the mainstream.”  Unless your program specifically relates to advancing student achievement in math, literacy, and to some extent science and technology you need to worry that funding will be drastically cut and your program may be adversely effected.

Republican leaders have passed stopgap legislation that cuts funding to programs like Even Start, Striving Reading, arts in education, the National Writing Program, and many more programs that have served our schools well.  A recent article in Education WeekCongress Chops High Profile Education Programs, outlines the impact of the legislation on important programs.  Here is a summary:

  • Arts in Education cut $40 million
  • National Writing Project cut $26 million
  • Reading is Fundamental cut $25 million
  • We the People cut $22 million
  • Teach for America cut $18 million
  • New Leaders for New Schools cut $5 million

While we have to get our fiscal house in order, I wonder how we elevate schools in America so that we can be more competitive with schools in Singapore, South Korea, China, Finland, and Canada if we cut resources to programs that promote innovation and creativity.  Cutting $40 million dollars for arts education in schools does not seem very strategic in my thinking.  Cutting $26 million from the National Writing Project (NWP) is totally misguided.  NWP has contributed enormously to advancing the writing process in schools across the country and has helped train educators through a myriad of programs.  The Reading is Fundamental program’s vision is:

Our vision is a literate America in which all children have access to books and discover the joys and value of reading.

Here are the sobering statistics from the National Right to Read Foundation that are not part of the conversation in Washington politics:

According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 42 million adult Americans can’t read; 50 million can recognize so few printed words they are limited to a 4th or 5th grade reading level; one out of every four teenagers drops out of high school, and of those who graduate, one out of every four has the equivalent or less of an eighth grade education.

If this doesn’t convince you, then read this article in the New York Times about what corporate America says about the writing skills of their employees:

A recent survey of 120 American corporations reached a similar conclusion. The study, by the National Commission on Writing, a panel established by the College Board, concluded that a third of employees in the nation’s blue-chip companies wrote poorly and that businesses were spending as much as $3.1 billion annually on remedial training.

Now I ask you, are our politicians being strategic and insightful when they cut programs that are working hard at trying to make Americans better readers, writers, artists, and innovators.  For me, the answer is absolutely not.  What are they thinking?

We will never catch up to the top performing countries in educating our children with this type of leadership.