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Oklahoma Still Lagging Behind 2008 "High Water Mark" for K–12 Arts Education

Horia Varlan

Oklahoma is a decade removed from its best year for arts education.

State Department of Education Director of Fine Arts Elizabeth Maughan said the 2008–2009 school year was the "high water mark," and the bottom quickly fell out after that as the recession hit.

"From the start of the 2008 school year to 2010, there were 60,000 fewer students taking an elementary music class," Maughan said. "There were 40,000 fewer students taking pre-K visual art, 43,000 fewer students were taking pre-K through eight instrumental music, 10,000 fewer students taking high school vocal music, 20,000 in high school instrumental, 10,000 in high school visual art and 5,000 in high school drama."

Maughan said today, about 19,000 Oklahoma K–12 students have no fine arts classes, which include visual arts, music, dance, drama and speech.

Oklahoma Arts Council Executive Director Amber Sharples said arts education boosts overall academic performance.

"At elementary, at that level, students in strong music education programs score higher on English and in math tests. Students in high school music ensembles are more likely to have higher standardized math achievement scores," Sharples said.

Oklahoma Association of Elementary School Principles Executive Director Doctor Gracie Branch said the number of students without arts education is concerning for a state with the highest rate of adverse childhood experiences, because research has proven music can help rewire the brains of kids who have trouble managing their emotions or coping with stress because of trauma.

"Rhythm is regulating, and the list of repetitive, rhythmic regulations used for trauma includes singing, dancing, drumming and most musical activities. So, basically, the arts," Branch said.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.