There was a headline or two last week that you may have missed: something about celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker and Alfre Woodard helping school kids.

“That’s nice,” you may have said to yourself as you scanned the headlines. But what you may not have realized is that this initiative could be the start of something BIG for arts education in America.

As I’m sure you’re aware, budgets for school districts nationwide are being slashed to the bone. As a result, painful cuts have to be made: reduction in faculty and staff, cutbacks in travel and field trips. Desperate school districts, even the most supportive of music and arts education, are faced with the unthinkable: trimming back the already lean budget for music and arts education.

The arts are an “extra,” some people believe. Students can study the arts on their own time and on their own dime, they reason. You and I, however, know that nothing could be further from the truth.

Over the past thirty years, studies on music and arts education have trickled out with more velocity in recent years. Virtually all of them have cited the myriad of positive effects that music education has on students. Somehow, though, we advocates still find ourselves trying to quantitatively justify arts education, our arguments are often falling on deaf ears.

Now, President Obama and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities are putting money where our mouths have been for quite some time.

turnaround arts-logo

Turnaround: Arts is a program that has selected eight elementary and middle schools nationwide that have fallen into the bottom five percent of schools in their states. Over the next two years, they will be provided with intensive training and tools to bolster the arts education at each school. Each school will be “adopted” by an artist: Chuck CloseSarah Jessica ParkerKerry Washington, Forest WhitakerYo-Yo MaDamian Woetzel and Alfre Woodard.

The hypothesis? “High-quality and integrated arts education can be an effective tool to strengthen school reform efforts-boosting academic achievement and increasing student motivation in schools facing some of the toughest educational challenges in the country.” That’s a fancy way of saying that they believe arts education will improve (or “turn around”) these schools, but more importantly, arts education will positively affect the lives of each student at each school.

Well, we know that. What we’re hoping is that by the end of this two-year initiative, EVERYONE knows that. Finally, those of us who support music and arts education are going to have (even more) hard evidence that arts education SPECIFICALLY is the catalyst to turning around poorly performing schools.

Only when this debate is settled, once and for all, can we begin the arduous task of turning around education—including, MUSIC and the arts—in America.

I know I’ll be watching with bated breath, while I continue to do my part every day.

The partners in Turnaround Arts include the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, the Herb Alpert Foundation, Crayola, NAMM Foundation, the Aspen Institute. Turnaround Arts is being run and managed by the Arts Education Partnership, a national coalition administered by the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Education.