One of the unintended consequences of No Child Left Behind is that a good deal of instruction not directly related to passing the tests is being squeezed out of the classroom. The result in California is that the number of students involved in music and art has been cut in half over the past four years. The decline doesn’t seem to be bottoming out as schools are devoting more and more of the day to preparing for the tests.
To be fair, some of the reduction or elimination of arts programs has been the result of budget cuts. School boards are very quick to drop the educational "frills" when money gets tight, often before chopping pet programs that don’t work. But even in this area where financial support of the schools is better, there has been a noticeable drop in the music and art programs, especially in the elementary schools.
What’s really ironic here is that there are many different studies demonstrating that students who are involved in arts programs actually do better in school and on standardized tests. While the research conflicts on whether the participation in the fine arts is the cause of better learning or if students who are better learners are attracted to the programs.
But whether the arts are the chicken or the egg is irrelevant. The fine and performing arts are core subjects, equal in importance to anything else in the curriculum. A student who can pass all the standardized tests but has no knowledge of culture and the humanities has received a poor education.