The Real Cost of Cutting Art Programs for Low-Income Kids

Education in the arts can do more than boost a student’s creativity. A new report by the National Endowment for the Arts shows high school students who had “arts-rich experiences” had a higher overall GPA than students who weren’t involved in the arts. The report also found disadvantaged high school students involved in the arts were more likely to enroll in competitive colleges than their peers who weren’t involved, according to the article “Arts Involvement Narrows Student Achievement Gap.

Art education has shown to make a positive impact on student success, but it runs counter to the belief that testing and more rigorous programs aimed at raising math and reading scores is the answer to higher graduation rates and lower dropout rates. How does art  make students a better at solving math problems or reading a book? For one, students are engaged by these creative activities, making them more likely to attend and participate in class. A music, theater, dance, or visual arts class might be the only motivation a student has to come to school on any given day and increases the odds they will make it to their academic classes as well.

For some at-risk students, their involvement in the arts might be the first thing they’ve excelled at and been encouraged to pursue. When students find their niche, they might be more motivated to continue down the path of success and translate the hard work and payoff they’ve seen in action to their other studies. It’s not the mastery of brushstrokes or pirouettes that will help students become better readers and mathematicians; it’s the confidence they gain through experimentation and play that lets them know they can succeed.

However, schools are facing hard financial times and many are required to cut programs, and the first classes to go are often art classes. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Education found that fewer public elementary schools are offering visual arts, dance, and drama classes than they were 10 years ago, which is believed to be due to an increase in programs aimed at improving math and reading scores. It’s not a surprise that student populations that qualify for free or reduced lunch — and benefit most from arts programs — are getting hit the hardest.

Student success starts early. The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has the mission to close the achievement gap by having all low-income students reading at grade-level by third grade. What would happen if more initiatives were focused on giving students the tools to succeed throughout their development, instead of focusing all their efforts on reversing damage already done? We can’t afford to wait until high school to expose at-risk students to the arts, sports, or community participation that exposes them to the real-world and that might give them the first taste of intrinsic motivation.

LifeBound offers books and curricula that follow a stairstep developmental path for students in fifth through twelfth grade that teach social, emotional, and academic skills for success in school, career, and life. We are also passionate about closing the achievement gap and believe a summer reading program can make a world of difference in the lives of at-risk and impoverished students. Ask us about our book donation program for summer reading in the comments or email us at



“Arts Involvement Narrows Student Achievement Gap,” by Tom Jacobs. 29 March 2012. Miller-McClune. Accessed on 3 April 2012.

“Report: Fewer Elementary Schools Offering Visual Arts, Drama, Dance; Poor Students Hurt Most,” by Christine Armario. 2 April 2012. Star Tribune. Accessed on 3 April 2012.


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