Illinois State Board of Education Meeting | March 15 | Springfield, Illinois
Ingenuity Public Comment on the Arts in ESSA


Thank you, Dr. Smith, members of the board of education. My name is AmySue Mertens. I am the Director of Public Affairs for Ingenuity in Chicago where we work to advance the arts in Chicago’s public schools. I want to thank you for placing the arts into the final draft ESSA accountability plan. As I was preparing my comments, an article wastwitter_pic_ISBE-mtgpublished in The Hill, a D.C. publication, which I believe speaks so well to the impact of the arts that I decided to take some of my time to read it here. The commentary is by Amy Wilkinson. A note that this was written prior to this most recent draft, so reflects that the arts are not in the accountability plan. Again, thank you for including them in this current draft.

“On March 15th the Illinois Board of Education will vote on the Every Student Succeeds Act State Plan. Under this federal law, Illinois will determine its support of K-12 schools. Arts programming is not included anywhere in the current draft of the plan as an indicator of school quality.”

“Criteria used to gauge school success and student learning often include attendance and achievement in math and reading. Extensive research shows that students who study the arts in school demonstrate significantly more positive developmental outcomes than their peers who do not pursue arts coursework.”

“Findings indicate that arts students are highly active within school communities, are less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors or participate in drug use. The Arts Education Partnership also associates arts programs with boosts in literacy and math achievement citing studies that suggest increased years of enrollment in arts courses are positively correlated with higher SAT verbal and math scores.”

“When considering challenges within Chicago Publics Schools, the transformative nature of arts education for students with lower socio-economic status is even more significant.”
“According to [James] Catterall’s findings [from a 2009 longitudinal survey study], extensive participation in arts activities was a noteworthy predictor of academic achievement and community involvement for disadvantaged students. Students with lower economic status benefited greatly from attending arts-rich schools in regards to college attendance, grades, employment, and level of terminal degree. The study showed that low-income students in arts programs were also more likely to participate in volunteerism and engage in politics. English language learners who attended arts-rich high schools were significantly more likely to pursue a bachelor’s degree at age 20 and more likely to attain advanced degrees than their peers in non arts-rich schools.”

“To be sure, there is a danger in supporting the arts primarily for their contributions to academic achievement and the economy. Denying the arts’ intrinsic value as an element of humankind’s noble quest for truth and beauty limits our understanding of what role artists play in society. I don’t hear algebra professors having to justify their existence because learning math helps a musician play the clarinet better.”

That bears repeating. “I don’t hear algebra professors having to justify their existence because learning math helps a musician play the clarinet better.”

Every state can help its children by elevating arts programming within our schools. It’s not too late for all American [sic] to demand that quality arts programs be a marker of a quality education.”
In Illinois, this means a percent in this accountability plan. The current plan calls this punitive, citing Illinois’ unfair funding model.

So…I grabbed some student artwork from our offices. And to be clear, I didn’t grab the “best art.” I just pulled some work we had from Chicago’s public high school students.

[display a variety of student visual art: an artist’s approach to marketing a new business with an advertisement, designing and coding a video game character, interior designing furniture through drawing and then translating that to a digital program, expressing a political statement by designing a protest poster, and finally – articulating feelings about self-worth and self-impressions.]

I think you get where I am going with this. The arts do many different things for different students, and can reflect many things from the economic benefits of the arts to the ability to express one’s feelings about themselves in a way no other subject can. And these are only representations of visual art—one of the five recognized arts disciplines in Illinois.
In closing, not weighting the arts in this plan is punitive to our students. It allows the legislature’s failure to act, to impact what should be a plan of positive policies. Indicating that we cannot hold schools accountable for the arts because they cannot afford them is circular logic—every subject area has that issue. We are all under that same thumb.

I encourage this board to weight the arts in Illinois’ ESSA plan.

Contact Us

Interested in learning more about what you read above or Ingenuity? Don't hesitate to reach out!

Contact Us