- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2012

Carrie Bradshaw might not be a role model at the elementary school, but the Obama administration hopes Sarah Jessica Parker can be.

As part of its Turnaround Arts initiative announced Monday, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities will dispatch Miss Parker and such other stars as Forest Whitaker and Kerry Washington to eight elementary and middle schools across the nation, where they will advocate for more theater, dance and other arts courses.

The eight institutions, including D.C.’s Savoy Elementary School, were chosen from a pool of 25 applicants, all in high-poverty areas and eligible for the Education Department’s School Improvement Grant (SIG) program.

“Arts and music education are absolutely critical to providing all students with a world-class, well-rounded education, and nowhere are they more essential than in low-performing schools,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “I’m confident this initiative will prove that the arts are an effective strategy for improving student engagement and achievement while turning around schools.”

The effort, White House officials told reporters on a Monday conference call, comes at no cost to taxpayers, other than the roughly $14 million already awarded to the eight schools through the SIG program.

Private sector and nonprofit partners, such as Crayola, the Aspen Institute and others, will kick in additional money to provide each school with thousands of dollars worth of new musical instruments, art supplies and other desperately needed items.

Those partners will also sponsor “on-site professional development” at each location, designed to educate teachers and principals on how to implement arts and music curricula. Each school’s principal, along with two instructors, will also attend workshops and seminars on arts and music education.

The initiative will last through 2014. Over the next two years, the White House’s Hollywood cohorts will regularly visit each school and work hand-in-hand with students.

“It will be a model for demonstrating how high-quality arts education can help turn failing schools into high-performing ones, and provide every student with access to the great education they need and deserve,” said Miss Parker, the former star of HBO’s “Sex and the City,” who will work with children at the Martin Luther King Jr. School, a K-8 school in Portland, Ore.

The lack of art and music classes in struggling schools, administration officials said, is yet another factor driving high dropout rates and poor academic performance.

Students in high-poverty areas are about 50 percent more likely to have no music or arts classes, said Margo Lion, co-chairwoman of the arts and humanities committee. About 1.3 million children nationwide have no access to music education, and about 3.9 million attend schools with no arts classes, according to Ms. Lion.

“No band, no painting classes, no theater - the things we know get students to come to school and to stay in school,” she said. “Arts education has been left out of the equation.”

Students in low-income areas with little or no arts education are far less likely to enroll in a four-year college or eventually earn a bachelor’s degree, according to a recent report by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Students in high-poverty schools that offer art and music classes are also 10 percent more likely to complete high school-level courses, such as calculus, the survey says.

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