Wicker emphasizes importance of arts education - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Wicker emphasizes importance of arts education

Report From Congress
By Senator Roger F. Wicker

WASHINGTON, DC - On April 10, I had the opportunity to hear a series of concerts given by elementary, junior high, and high school honor choirs, comprised of talented young singers from all over Mississippi. The students did an outstanding job and displayed impressive musical skills. I applaud the efforts of our state's music educators who help students learn to sing, play instruments, and develop a passion for music. As I watched these young Mississippians perform, I was reminded of the critical importance of arts education in producing successful, well-rounded students.

Music, visual arts, literature, and history are too often pushed to the backburner in our education system, particularly during times of budget constraints. In some cases, art and music are cut out of the curriculum altogether because they are deemed less important than the hard sciences or foundational disciplines of math and English. There is no question that reading, writing, science and math are the core components of a solid education. Physical education and sports activities must also be included to produce healthy, motivated students. I believe music and arts education are among the subjects and activities that are necessary for a successful education.

Creative Arts Improve Academic Performance

When creative arts such as painting, poetry, dance, and music are incorporated into a school's curriculum, children actually excel in other disciplines and are more successful in the long term. Music and art lessons are proven solutions to classroom discipline challenges. Research indicates that children who study music perform better in math. Music teaches students to master counting and to understand fractions, which are a key concept to musical notes. Study of musical theory also trains students to recognize and use symbols, helping to strengthen reading readiness and aptitude. Arts education has even been linked with higher standardized college entrance exam scores.

Studies show that students who are exposed to the arts earn higher test scores, regardless of other factors such as income level. The correlation between arts education and overall achievement is strong at every socioeconomic level. Many low-income or disadvantaged boys and girls may not have access to private dance lessons or have the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument outside of school. For this reason, it is essential that arts education be emphasized in our public schools. Art classes, marching bands, orchestras, choirs, dance troupes, and drama departments in public schools ensure all students have the opportunity to explore creative interests and to sharpen academic skills.

Another benefit of arts education that cannot be overemphasized is its importance to creativity. Arts stimulate the minds and imaginations of our students. If we encourage children to think out of the box at a young age, they will become better problem solvers and critical thinkers throughout their lives. America must foster a generation of young people who are innovative and entrepreneurial. Arts education prepares American workers to compete in the global market place and what some are calling the new "economy of ideas."

Arts Education in Mississippi

Fortunately, the Mississippi Department of Education recognizes the value of arts education. Visual and performing arts are required for all K-12 students in Mississippi. All three of my children graduated from the Tupelo Public School system, where they took part in many creative classes and extracurricular activities. Across Mississippi, public schools are only not including arts education, but emphasizing it. I appreciate the administrators and music educators who are making this a priority. Next month, the Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education will present the 2010 Arts Education Awards to recognize all the good work being done in our state's schools.

At the federal level, the role of lawmakers is to make sure our schools and educators have the support they need to achieve success. I am troubled by a proposal in the President's plan to make arts education compete with other disciplines for grant funding. This raises the risk that important arts programs will be deemphasized, which is an obvious disservice to our nation's students. Congress will be considering this issue in the coming months and next year as we debate reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. We should structure our existing education programs to reflect the importance of arts education.

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