WASHINGTON (AP) — Delivering a forceful argument on the role of the arts in education, Michelle Obama said Tuesday that it isn't something to be introduced after student test scores go up but is a critical element of achieving those higher test scores in the first place.
The lawyer-turned-first lady argued her case while opening the first White House student talent show, featuring spirited song and dance routines by students whose schools had performed so poorly they were chosen for a new federal arts education program.
By the end of the hourlong, toe-tapping, hand-clapping show in the East Room, which was bathed in a soothing orange light, and Mrs. Obama had joined all the students on the makeshift stage to dance during their closing number, which shared its name with her husband's "Yes We Can" presidential campaign slogan.
President Barack Obama even broke away from his work elsewhere in the White House to come and make his own pitch for arts education and to congratulate the elementary and middle-school-age performers.
The talent show was a vehicle to showcase the "Turnaround Arts" program. It was created as an experiment in 2012 by the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in collaboration with the White House and the Education Department to test whether arts education can help improve student outcomes and create more positive learning environments. Major artists adopted each school.
Encouraged by the results so far, including higher reading and math scores and fewer disciplinary problems, Mrs. Obama announced that the program is being expanded this year from the original eight schools to 35 schools in 10 states — Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Louisiana, Oregon, Montana, Colorado, California, Illinois, Minnesota — and the District of Columbia.
Two of the original eight schools have improved so much that they are no longer in "turnaround" status, she said. Those schools are Findley Elementary School in Des Moines, Iowa, and Orchard Gardens in Boston.
The arts, the first lady said, help get students excited about taking their seats in class because they are looking forward to the next musical they're performing in or the instrument they can't wait to play.
"But if they're not in their seats then we can't teach them anything at all," Mrs. Obama said. "The bottom line here is very clear: Arts education isn't something we add on after we've achieved other priorities, like raising test scores and getting kids into college. It's actually critical for achieving those priorities in the first place."
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