Closing the Achievement Gap: Education and Arts Education in Cleveland
by Brett Parsons and Archer Frodyma
“I’m not sure what’s changed, but challenging things continue to exist. Sadly, Cleveland is a violent community. There is a lot of crime. Kids hear gunshots too frequently. Kids are home alone too long, and the impact over time seems to be getting worse.”
These are the words of Mr. Lee Lazar, as he stressed the emotional baggage many students in Cleveland constantly carry with them, hindering them from succeeding. We were able to speak with Mr. Lazar, the Executive Director of The Rainey Institute, which provides art programming to underserved kids in Cleveland, as part of our Service Learning Capstone Project. Brett Parsons and I, Archer Frodyma, hosted Mr. Lazar to speak to HB students during Real Conversations with Real People about challenges facing the public education system in Cleveland, with an added focus on arts education as well. In this article, we will discuss what we learned from Mr. Lazar at this forum and the research we have done on education and arts education in Cleveland.
Brett: Education in Cleveland
Since joining HB in 7th grade I have been blessed with an amazing education where I get the attention of teachers who genuinely care about me, small class sizes, and people who push me to do my very best. I have also been in a school where I have been given opportunities I could never even image from everything to working in a research lab at the Cleveland Clinic to taking a songwriting class.
Since I have came to HB there have been many opportunities to learn about the education systems in Cleveland, and how many students from low-income areas (in Cleveland and in the world) oftentimes don’t have access to good education. I have been so lucky to get such an amazing education, and I think education is so important, so I find it ridiculous that so many children are denied an education. I am very passionate about education, taking a part in various service opportunities related to education, and this passion sparked the idea for this capstone project. I knew I wanted to do something relating to education, and Archer wanted to do something about arts education so we decided to combine our project. Part of the issue that we both agreed surrounds lack of education is people being unaware. At HB we are so privileged it is easy to forget that just a few miles away from us there are many kids who don’t have access to an education so we wanted to create a speaker series where we invited educators and administrators from around Cleveland to come and speak to girls at HB. But first Archer and I wanted to do some research.
Cleveland.com says that “Cleveland schools do worse than almost every other big city on ‘nation’s report card’, showing no improvement over a decade Archer and I talked to various professionals about what causes these problems.
A large issue that urban public schools have to face—that many of us would never even think about—is the amount of baggage and trauma that many of these children bring to school everyday. Cleveland is a violent city, children are exposed to gang activity and witness violence and drug infestation. This is something we first learned about when Archer and I went to hear Dr John B King (the 10th secretary of education) speak at the Cleveland City Club. Many of these children will never get the emotional support they need. Dr King said that children are more likely to see the police officer at school than a guidance counselor. Mr Lazar explained that some of these kids can hardly function because of everything they have had to deal with. Mr Lazar then shared this comic and said this “this has always depicted for me the challenges of education in Cleveland. The reality is kids who grow up in poverty bring serious issues with them, and for kids to get the level of education that they need, the school, the community, our society has to deal with these issues because they’re a part of these kids’ daily lives.” So Rainey aims to do so much more than just teach the children, it aims to foster an environment where they can thrive and that includes having adults really invest in these kids and focus on them as a whole person, not just as a student.
Archer: Arts Education in Cleveland
“Sadly, most schools in Cleveland no longer teach music and the arts in schools, so kids who grow up in Cleveland get almost no connection [to the arts] in their schools. If their families can provide it, they will get a connection, and we know, for lots of children, that connection can be critically important. It helps to build intellectual capabilities. It helps to teach children lots of important lessons that they will utilize for the rest of their lives. And again, sadly, resources that are available to kids in Cleveland are much different from resources that are available to kids in suburban communities.” -Mr. Lazar
With the recent shifting of performing arts classes available at Hathaway Brown, lately we have all been asked to reflect on the value that these offerings hold in our lives. For me, I have found an amazing family and outlet through our amazing songwriting community. I have fallen in love with playing the bass and met amazing players all over the country, even in Chile on our orchestra’s trip there last year. Through Solo Voice, I have cultivated a stage presence and gained confidence. I truly do not believe that I would be half the person that I am today without my growth through the arts.
Involvement in the arts has repeatedly been correlated with increased graduation rates, yet many of the students who need this involvement most are the first to have arts funding cut in their schools. According to Alliance for Excellent Education, school districts with higher percentages of students of color or students coming from low-income households are much more likely to have their arts instruction cut. Research has shown, however, that participating in the arts helps to close the achievement gap, especially helping students from low-income backgrounds and students learning English. In fact, statistics show that students who earned arts credits during their high school careers had higher overall grade point averages and were as much as five times more likely to graduate than their counterparts who had not earned arts credits. Additionally, in a study done in New York City Public Schools, it was found that districts in the top third in terms of graduation rates were those with 40% more certified arts teachers, 40% more physical spaces dedicated to arts, and 35% of their graduates received three or more arts credits, creating an interesting correlation between involvement in the arts and higher likelihood of graduation. This is why arts programming is so essential and should be considered part of the core curriculum in public schools, especially given the existence of such glaring achievement gaps.
Arts education programming became part of the core curriculum under Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into action in 2015 by President Obama in, and it is estimated that around 94% of U.S. public schools offer arts courses. This information, however, is misleading and does not take into account the students offered these services and the looming issue of funding. According to the Give a Note Foundation, music teachers in urban districts are more likely to see fundraising as a constant concern, due to the nature of music classes. This applies to all arts classes, as they all require materials, such as props, paint, and instruments, which often cannot be covered by school budgets.
Beyond the proven benefits of participation in the arts on both mental development and graduation rates, it is necessary that children have a meaningful involvement in extracurricular activities and have access to the support of caring adults, both of which they get through becoming involved in music and arts programs. I can vouch for the personal connections I have made through my participation in music programs. My music teachers and mentors have become some of the most trusted adults in my life, and I look toward them as role models and leaders. Mr. Lazar stressed to us this need for involvement in something, which Rainey provides through the arts. He told us, “We say at Rainey we’re not in the business of trying to create professional musicians or artists, although we have helped to create some of those. We’re really in the business of trying to create successful citizens, and we do it by connecting kids to music and the arts.”
In Cleveland, the public schools and nonprofits alike are working toward making arts programming more accessible to students around Cleveland, both inside and outside of the classroom. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s (CMSD) Department of Arts Education provides programming to forty schools in the district, including its long-established All-City Arts program, which began in 1954. After disappearing in the seventies, it was re-established in 2000 and provides after school and weekend arts instruction and provides many community performances throughout the year. Ensembles include All-City Jazz Band, All-City Choir, Drum Line, and Dance, and all programs are completely free of charge to students. Part of CMSD too is the Cleveland School of the Arts, where students engage in rigorous arts instruction in their area of focus, such as dance, visual arts, voice, or an instrument, for four years of high school. For students who don’t have access to any program at all, Rainey Institute has had a huge presence in the Cleveland arts scene, providing after-school arts classes and private lessons, which are otherwise extremely expensive, for underprivileged youth in Cleveland. Many other nonprofits in Cleveland, such as Lake Erie Ink, help provide affordable or free programs in writing, arts, and music around Cleveland, helping to close achievement gaps and help underserved, at-risk young people grow as students and as creative thinkers.
Even though trends show little improvement in Cleveland schools overall in the past few years, the good news is that arts programs are starting to make a comeback. Cleveland has so many programs that are dedicated to stopping these trends, something that we really took away from this project. Although urban school education faces seemingly never-ending problems, there are many programs in Cleveland that are dedicated to educating children and providing them with many services they need in areas where urban public education may be lacking.
We also learned that we can help. By researching for this project, we found various programs around Cleveland, like Citizen Leadership Academy, Saturday Tutoring, and Boys Hope Girls Hope, and all of these programs welcome high school volunteers. By educating ourselves, investing in these various programs, and dedicating ourselves to help further provide education for all children in whatever way we can is what is going to really make a difference and maybe one day get us to a point where every kid in Cleveland is given the chance to thrive in school.
Alliance for Excellent Education:
The Center for Arts Education:
The Give a Note Foundation: