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Arts Update

Putting the Arts to the Test

New PCAH initiative will place robust arts programs in eight low-performing schools.
PCAH Turnaround Arts
Findley (Iowa) Elementary School fifth graders painted a snow plow blade. The school was picked for an arts program by PCAH.

The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH) has a theory: that placing robust arts education programs in low-performing schools will narrow the achievement gap and increase student engagement. To test this theory, the committee, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education, the White House Policy Council, and numerous private organizations, has developed the Turnaround Arts Initiative, a pilot project in eight schools deemed low-performing around the country.

The overarching goal of the program, which will begin this fall and, is funded for three years, is to create a template so that other schools can create a strong arts curriculum. It was formed on the heels of PCAH’s report, Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools, which was released in May 2011.

Each of these schools—all of which are elementary or middle schools—is a recipient of a School Improvement Grant and has already identified the arts as a means by which it hopes to improve. In addition to SIG funding, the committee has received various donations from private and nonprofit organizations. The curriculum, however, is not the same for all schools.

“Each school is located in a city in a different region of the country and has a different set of resources,” says Mary Schmidt Campbell, vice chairman of PCAH and dean of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. “For example, the school in New Orleans [Batiste Cultural Arts Academy] has a strong commitment to music. Another school may have a strong commitment to dance or visual arts. Each school is tailored based on its community’s needs and the resources already established there.

Celebrities including Sarah Jessica Parker, Yo-Yo Ma and Forest Whitaker have adopted schools to guide students, participate in performances and community events, conduct master classes, and bring visibility to these programs.

“As an educator, it has been exceedingly gratifying to be able to go throughout the country to make a major investment in our public schools,” says Campbell. “If we can come up with a template or model that’s replicated, it would be a huge step forward to reforming American public schools.”