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Can the Arts be a Central Part of Urban School Improvement?

Well, of course. Unfortunately, that answer is not widely known or embraced among the policy elites. That’s part of our job as advocates.

Middle School 223, once shuttered as one of the most violent middle schools in New York City, was reopened in 2003 as M.S. 223/The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology. Today, Principal Ramon Gonzalez says attendance is about 4 percent higher than at any middle school in the area. Meanwhile, test scores have risen from an 8 or 9 percent competency in reading and math to a whopping 65 percent of students on grade level for math and 40 percent for English language arts. And Gonzalez credits a large part of this success to the school’s robust arts program.


This excerpt is part of a piece running in this month’s edition of Dance Teacher Magazine.

Here is another:

“Dance is a way to get kids involved in the school,” he explains. “It
immediately affects attendance, and that immediately affects test
scores.” When the educators at M.S. 223 realized that arts classes were
such a draw, they began scheduling them on days when attendance was
typically low. This led to a wholesale change in philosophy. “Before,
we saw [arts and academics] as mutually exclusive, and now we see
things differently,” says Gonzalez.

In a time where the curriculum is being narrowed, here is one principal doing the exact opposite: he takes away from test prep to schedule the arts.

N.B. Full disclosure, both of the schools in this article are partners with CAE…


  1. I really like the connection you’re emphasizing here between arts education and urban school reform. You may be interested in a new collection of 60+ case studies on arts education put together by IssueLab which both echoes and supplements the example of M.S. 223, and the overall thrust of your post as well.
    One interesting piece in the collection comes from the Wallace Foundation, describing a “coordinated approach to arts education” for some of Dallas’ poorest students.
    I encourage you to explore the entire collection, which illuminates many other facets of arts education, at
    IssueLab: Bringing Non-Profit Research into Focus

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