White House Enlists Stars to Launch Initiative to Boost Schools Via Arts Education

Today the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities — chaired by Margo Lion and George Stevens Jr. — launched a new initiative to boost eight low-performing schools by focusing on expanding their arts education.

The program is based on the idea that arts education can play a crucial role in turning arund low-performing schools in high poverty areas. The Turnaround Arts Initiative will “test the hypothesis that high-quality and integrated arts education boosts academic achievement, motivates student learning and improves school culture in the context of overall school reform,” organizers say. The program was developed in conjunction with the Department of Education and the White House Domestic Policy Council.

Seven members of the committee, including Chuck Close, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kerry Washington, Forest Whitaker, Yo-Yo- Ma, Damian Woetzel and Alfre Woodard, will adopt one of the schools for the length of the two-year program.

The schools will in some cases see additional staffers or funding for teacher training, musical instruments and supplies. The schools are in Bridgeport, Conn.; Boston; Portland, Ore.; Washington; Des Moines; Lame Deer, Montana; New Orleans and Denver. The list of “turnaround artists” and their schools is here.

In an conference call, Lion said that students in high poverty areas were 50% less likely to have access to arts and music education. She added that while school reform has been a priority, arts education has in large part “been left out of the equation.”

“It is not a silver bullet for sure, but it can be an effective tool in solving these difficult challenges,” she said.

Update: Each school will received about $1 million in cash and in-kind contributions, per year, largely from private sources and sponsors sponsors including Crayola, the Herb Alpert Foundation, the Aspen Institute, Booz Allen and the NAMM Foundation. Federal support is coming via the Department of Education’s School Improvement Grant program.

“This is the first time that the President’s Committee has really rolled up its sleeves and gotten involved in this kind of work in schools,” said Rachel Goslins, executive director of the committee. She added that it was also the first federal effort to focus specifically on the question of the role that arts education plays in underperforming schools.




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