NJ Arts Education Demonstrates Resilience in Schools Despite Covid-19 Pandemic, According to New Census Report

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originally published: 05/31/2022

(WARREN, NJ) — New Jersey showed significant artistic growth during the 2020/2021 school year, particularly when it came to Dance and Theatre programs. This is according to the latest census report, The Resilience of Arts Ed Now: Beyond the Pandemic, released this week and conducted by Arts Ed NJ as part of the 2021 New Jersey Arts Education Census Project.

Widely acknowledged as a national leader in arts education, New Jersey maintained near “universal access” to arts education for all students—99% of New Jersey schools, representing 99.4% of students provided arts education—during the COVID-19 Pandemic,

the research study revealed.

While Dance and Theatre demonstrated the most growth, music and visual art maintained participation levels and showed remarkable resilience, particularly given the environment of ever-changing health and safety guidelines and concerns that some performing arts programs were not safe.

More positive news: Per Pupil Arts Spending (PPAS) has increased by 19% in elementary, 12% in middle and 15% in high schools since 2016. However, Per-Pupil Arts Spending decreases as poverty levels (measured by free and reduced-price lunch and District Factor Groups) increase.

In 2019, New Jersey became the first state to document universal access to arts education for all students. However, while statewide arts education access is broad, only 13% of students enjoy access to all four arts disciplines – dance, music, theater and visual art – as required by state code. 

 

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“These findings speak to the true resiliency of both our school leaders and, most importantly, our arts educators,” Stated Robert Morrison, Director, Arts Ed NJ. “To see the growth we have over the last five years in dance, theatre, and schools offering three or more arts disciplines is a testament to our state’s entire arts education community.” 

 

Other key findings of the fourth census: 

Both dance and theatre showed significant increases in access and participation from prior reports. Compared to 2016, the number of schools offering dance increased by 97%, while theatre increased by 31%. Dance participation increased from 3% to 8%, while theatre increased from 3% to 7%.

Dance increases from 8% student participation for all schools to 30% participation when only including schools that offer dance. Similarly, theatre increases from 7% to 18%, visual art goes from 69% to 72% and music goes from 63% to 65% when only including schools offering these disciplines. This indicates that the lack of dance and theatre in schools is a barrier to participation. However, when these courses are offered, there is strong demand for student participation, including 62% for dance and 44% for theatre participation in elementary schools. 

The increase in dance and theatre has led to a significant increase in schools offering three or more arts disciplines since 2016. Increases were realized for each grade span, including elementary (125%), middle (88%) and high school (10%). This has been a strategic goal of Arts Ed NJ. 

Seventy-six percent of all students—nearly 1 million—participated in one or more arts education offerings during the 2020/2021 school year, including 93% of elementary, 84% of middle and 44% of high school students. This is a significant improvement in student participation compared to 63% in 2006. Districts have significant flexibility in how they choose to structure arts courses within and across grade levels, such as by quarters, semesters, alternating grades, etc.

Participation in art (69%) and music (63%) were highest among the four arts disciplines. Visual art and music are also the most widely available of the arts disciplines, at 95% and 96%, respectively. 

Per-Pupil Arts Spending decreases as poverty levels (measured by free and reduced-price lunch and District Factor Groups) increase.

Student arts participation is similar across all Free/Reduced Price Lunch percentage categories as well as across race/ethnicity. However, as District Factor Groups become more affluent, arts participation increases. 

Eighty-three percent of all schools in the state participate in some cultural activity. This includes field trips (71%), assemblies (51%), long-term partnerships (31%) and artist-in-residencies (14%). These represent declines in all categories in every report since 2006. 

More important findings on a wide variety of measures regarding the status and condition of arts education are available here.

 

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The New Jersey Arts Education Census Project is a collaborative partnership with the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the New Jersey Department of Education, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Arts Ed NJ, ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and Quadrant Research. The Resilience of Arts Ed Now: Beyond the Pandemic is the follow-up report to the nationally acclaimed 2007, 2012 and 2017 reports, Within Our Power: The Progress, Plight and Promise of Arts Education for Every Child, Keeping the Promise: Arts Education for Every Child, The Distance Traveled–The Journey Remaining and ARTS ED NOW: Every Child, Every School. The release coincides with the expansion of the Arts Ed Now statewide public awareness campaign to raise the visibility of arts education in schools and communities. 

Methodology: The Commissioner of Education encouraged all public-school principals in New Jersey to provide data on arts education from their schools for this Arts Education Census Project. The participation rate is 94.0% of the 2,295 public and charter schools required to take part representing 1,156,940 students. The schools provided data via a special online questionnaire to Quadrant Research. The data were then processed for statistical analysis, which forms the basis of this report. The complete report may be downloaded here.

What People Are Saying About the 2021 New Jersey Arts Education Census Report

“The arts are an integral part of what makes our public school system one of the strongest in the nation,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “We’re seeing how the extent of arts education in New Jersey schools over the past few years has reflected the commitment of our educators and the resilience of our students.”

“I applaud New Jersey schools for keeping a focus on the arts, even in the face of overwhelming obstacles posed by the pandemic,” said Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillian, Acting Commissioner of Education. “For years we have known the powerful connection between arts education and the academic growth of children. But for many students, the arts have been crucial in helping them cope with the personal obstacles faced over the past two years.”

Acting Secretary of State Tahesha Way: “The arts are needed now more than ever, especially for young people, as they navigate the uniquely complex challenges and emotions brought on over the last two years. Arts education gives students the tools they need to connect, empathize, and innovate. I am proud to work closely with the State Arts Council and their partners to support increased opportunities for meaningful arts learning.”

Allison Tratner, Executive Director of the NJ State Council on the Arts: “The findings of the latest Art Ed NJ census are a testament to the dedication and commitment of our state’s arts educators. These teachers quickly adjusted out of necessity and prioritized meaningful engagement for their students during a time of crisis, which we know was both not easy and incredibly important. We look forward to working with the Department of Education, Arts Ed NJ, and our partners in the field to build on all the innovation and lessons learned.”

“We are encouraged that the Arts Education Census has measured progress in access to arts education in many New Jersey communities, even during the pandemic, said Tanuja Dehne, president and CEO, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. “However, as the Census data shows, there is still work to ensure that all students benefit from state-required arts instruction regardless of socioeconomic status. Highlighting these disparities is an important step toward a just and equitable New Jersey, where people of all races and communities can thrive.

Arts Ed NJ is the unified voice for arts education in New Jersey. Formerly the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership, Arts Ed NJ was founded in 2007 by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, New Jersey Department of Education and Music for All Foundation, with additional support from the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation. The mission of Arts Ed NJ is to provide a unified voice for a diverse group of constituents who agree on the educational benefits and impact of the arts, specifically the contribution they make to student achievement and a civilized, sustainable society. 

Arts Ed Now is a statewide campaign to increase active participation in arts education in all schools in New Jersey. Studies show that students who participate in arts education do better in school and life. Unfortunately, not all NJ students have the access or information to increase their participation in arts education. The Arts Ed Now campaign identifies ways to increase participation in arts education and garner public support to put a spotlight on the issue – and is designed to be customized at a local grassroots level for more impact. The “Campaign Central” website features stories, tools and ways for citizens to become better ambassadors – together. This project is supported in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Geraldine R Dodge Foundation, The Grunin Foundation and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.  

Anita Shire

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