Saying ‘Goodbye’ to Specials

By: Kara Haselton

This past January, North Carolina legislators proposed a new bill that would implement limits on the sizes of public elementary school classes. This bill, House Bill 13, was passed and signed by Roy Cooper in the spring and mandated that NC public schools should have no more than 19 to 21 students in their elementary school classrooms, specifically classrooms of grades from kindergarten to third grade. This caused serious problems for several schools that were struggling to find room in the budget to make that happen. For several counties, it would cost millions of dollars to hire the staff needed to effectively implement House Bill 13. Since many schools and county governments don’t have that kind of money, they decided that they have to make cuts in other areas and “lay off art and PE teachers so that they could hire more classroom teachers,” News & Observer reports. For those schools, students are going to have to say ‘goodbye’ to their beloved ‘specials’—the arts and PE classes.

WFMY News reported on this bill passing and stated that many arts and physical education teachers are worried about losing their jobs; however, others are worried more about what the kids will lose. Some of these teachers who have the required certification will be reassigned as basic classroom teachers, but their special department will be discontinued. Some commented that students are going to lose a lot from education if this follows through, especially in regards to PE. WFMY interviewed Nathan Street from Guilford County, and he stated, “[PE is] the kids’ way to expend some of that energy, they sit at a desk most of the time…then they get to go to PE and get rid of some of that pent-up energy.” PE is like an extra recess time for kids, and it’s common knowledge that recess is an important part of the school day for young students if their teachers want them to pay attention and learn in class. Likewise, PE is just as important, especially when it comes to fighting child obesity.

This past August is when NC public schools felt the first bite from this house bill. In response, legislators decided to “delay most of the k-3 class-size reductions until the 2018-19 school year,” according to the News & Observer. People are still protesting against this change. Even Jim Martin, a Wake County school board member, commented, “This is another case where it’s almost that the cure is worse than the disease.” He was addressing the fact that the purpose of this bill was to create a chance for teachers to spend more direct time with each student; however, it’s taking away other opportunities and almost making the classroom situation even worse.

Lobbying has taken place to counteract this passage of House Bill 13. People are outraged and frustrated for multiple reasons–reasons that take into account how it affects both teachers and students. Many teachers are experiencing incredible amounts of stress with the knowledge that they could be laid off due to the fact that they don’t have the status or credentials to teach in regular classrooms. Others are making their stance known because of the impact this bill will have on students and the opportunities provided to them. People may argue that the main purpose of art, music, PE, and foreign language classes provided in elementary school is simply to allow other ways of releasing energy and allowing students to get in touch with their creative side—the right side of their brain. However, some studies have been conducted on the impact of these classes for child development, and they show that classes like art and music can provide much more than just an outlet.

In a publication presenting results about the importance of the arts on student success, the article addresses a 2005 College Board report on the ACT and SAT scores of students taking varying levels of arts classes. It was discovered that those who took 4 or more years of arts courses scored an average of 534 on the verbal scores of the SAT and a 540 on math scores–keep in mind this was before the SAT scale changed. And the average score of a student that took an arts course for any amount of time had an overall average score of 508 verbal and 520 for math.

Additionally, a study by the Arts Education Partnership reported that students involved in the arts—music, art, dance, theater—excell much more in areas like “reading, writing, and math than those who focus solely on academics.” Those are skills that are vital for further success in school and beyond—skills that will help them get into great universities and graduate with honors. Furthermore, several studies have found that students who take arts classes are more likely to graduate high school, and that’s a goal that educators have been chasing after for decades.

In a world in which multiple intelligences are applauded and people feed off of entertainment from the arts, sports, music, and so on, legislators should realize not only how important these “specials” are for students’ personal development, but also for the development of the future society. Schools should never be in a position where they steal from Peter to pay Paul. It is necessary, on a moral and ethical level, for our legislators and county commissioners to fully fund at the requests of our public schools and their boards. If students are as important as they say, then they should walk the talk and not put schools in such a hard position as this bill has done. At the end of the day, the quality of education and these ‘specials’ are not things that anyone can afford to lose.  

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