CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Take a listen to the public pronouncements of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public School officials, and you could be forgiven for believing one thing: every student in every grade and every school across CPS is getting an education in the arts.
Unfortunately, the reality looks to be far different.
A new survey of 170 Chicago public elementary schools by Raise Your Hand Illinois found that 65 percent do not offer the expected minimum of two hours of arts education per week, as stated by both Mayor Emanuel and CPS officials.
The web-based survey of 444 respondents, conducted in January and February, includes information from parents and teachers representing nearly one-third of CPS schools. The survey found:
The findings are in marked contrast to the promises and proposals the mayor and CPS officials have touted in recent years.
As part of its arts education plan, for example, the “Arts Abstract 2012-2015” states the first goal of its the CPS District Arts Policy is to "make arts a core subject by dedicating 120 minutes of arts instruction per week for elementary schools.” The plan goes on to set “minimum staffing requirements in the arts at once certified full-time employee per school, or an improved ratio such as one teacher for every 350 students.”
The plan was rolled out with much fanfare, particularly in 2013 when Mayor Emanuel announced total funding for the initiative at $1 million. During a 2013 public event alongside renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and soprano great Renee Fleming, the mayor reiterated the education plan’s goals, saying that every student receives at least two hours of arts education a week, every school has an arts liaison and arts is part of the school's report card.
Yet arts education remains one of the first areas to see budgets cut in recent years. An analysis of the CPS budget by Raise Your Hand in December, for example, found 68 art positions, 47 music positions, 19 performing arts positions and more cut from the budget for 2013.
In January, CPS said it would allocate $21.5 million in available tax increment financing funds into 168 teaching positions over two years, equally divided between art and physical education.
Yet what might happen, or what CPS says it will do, often comes as cold comfort for parents of CPS students who see their children spend entire school days, weeks, and years without an appropriate level of arts instruction.
Further, in many cases children that are receiving arts instruction are forced into split classrooms, are being taught by volunteers, or are funded by direct contributions from parents outside of the CPS or an individual school’s budget process.
In a statement from Raise Your Hand that accompanied the survey’s findings, parent Colleen Dillon from Burr Elementary said, “In order to stretch our budget this year, not only were we forced to have a split classroom for the first time, but we also lost our art teacher. Now, the only arts classes offered at Burr are parent-funded and the amount we can fund certainly does not equal two hours a week.”
Sherise McDaniel, a parent of a third-grader at George Manierre Elementary on the Near North Side, told Ward Room that her child is currently receiving no arts instruction at all, and that such instruction simply cuts off after second grade at his school. At one point, Manierre had a full-time arts instructor for kindergarten through second grade, but she was let go as part of last year’s round of budget cuts before being brought back in a limited capacity.
“Even with the situation we’re in [with no arts after second grade at her school], there are so many other schools with no arts at all,” McDaniel said. “[The students] are all being drilled to the tests, and everything is data driven. It doesn't help our kids develop their minds. It doesn't help them to become thinkers. We need things like music and art and drama. The students deserve them.”
For her part, Wendy Katten of Raise Your Hand says that CPS needs to reallocate dollars from administrative costs and put money into the classroom to keep its promises regarding arts instruction in Chicago public schools.
“We’re saying schools should perform and have all these measurements and all this accountability, but we’re not really providing engaging, well-rounded, rich school days for all kids in Chicago,” she told Ward Room.
“We need the district to reprioritize where they’re spending money," she said. "There’s a couple billion dollars not going into the classroom, and they didn't cut at Central Office last year. We need them to increase per-pupil funding at the school level, or kids across Chicago are not going to get the kind of school day they need to thrive.”