Arts Education Provides Another ‘Pathway to Prosperity’

One of the most compelling ideas related to workforce development is the report issued in February 2011 called Pathways to Prosperity by Robert Schwartz and Ron Ferguson of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The report points out that every year, one million students leave school before earning a high school degree.

Many of these students say that they dropped out of high school because they felt their classes were not interesting and that school was unrelentingly boring. They say that they didn’t believe high school was relevant or provided a pathway to achieving their dreams.

According to the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, the U.S. economy will create 47 million job openings over the 10-year period ending in 2018. Nearly two-thirds of these jobs will require that workers have at least some post-secondary education. Applicants with no more than a high school degree will fill just 36 percent of the job openings or just half the percentage of jobs they held in the early 1970s.

How can we reverse these trends?

Pathways to Prosperity suggests that we: 1) broaden our vision of school reform that incorporates multiple pathways to carry young people from high school to adulthood; 2) expand the role for employers in supporting these new pathways and 3) develop a new social compact between society and its young people.

I would like to suggest a fourth alternative: provide an arts-based curricula to all students K-12. Research has shown that the arts will ensure that students are more engaged in school, attend school more regularly, and will encourage students to acquire the necessary skills for the 21st century workplace.

Arts learning encourages the development of a set of skills that Lois Hetland calls “habits of mind.” They include learning a craft (or technique), learning how to engage, envision, express, observe, reflect, stretch, and explore. All of these “habits” allow students to learn to “play with ideas.”

And it is the “playing with ideas” that will lead students to become more engaged in school, more employable, and more productive in life.

Can the arts community help to create internships, apprenticeships, and coursework beginning in middle school and earlier that will give students an opportunity to enjoy school because they see a link between their interests, studies, and career aspirations?

Can arts leaders work across the corporate, government, workforce development, philanthropy, and education sectors to create opportunities for students to explore their interests early in their educational life both in and out of school?

Can we work with businesses that are looking for creative problem solvers and urge them to support arts integrated educational efforts so that students see a clear connection between what they are studying and opportunities for employment?

Certainly students will flourish and become employable if the arts community joins with those interested in school reform to share our best ideas and help to create important networks to further explore radical new pathways for success.