“Ask Steve Jobs or Jony Ive or the engineers who built airbags so we could land a craft on Mars,” proclaims actor Edward Norton. “It isn’t math skills that enable those achievements, it’s creative thinking.”
Understanding the connection between arts education and overall academic achievement is why Norton is lending his time and talent to Turnaround Arts, which launched in 2015 in four Brooklyn schools. The program, a public-private partnership under the auspices of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, is in 49 schools and 14 states, and has proven successful in improving student outcomes in the traditionally lowest-performing schools.
Norton, along with fellow Turnaround Artists Kal Penn, Citizen Cope, Doc Shaw, Sarah Jessica Parker, and David Blaine were on hand at the Brooklyn Museum the second week of school to launch the program. Norton worked with students at East Flatbush Community Research School. Other New York artists and their schools for 2015-2016 were singer Marc Anthony at MS 352/Ebbets Field Middle School, dancer Misty Copeland at PS 284/Gregory Jackson Community School, and performer Paula Abdul at PS 165/Ida Posner school.
“I went to a performing arts school," noted Kal Penn. “It taught me more than how to perform, it gave me confidence, taught me how to take risks, how to speak, and so many other life skills.”
Turnaround Arts conducted an intensive three-year study on the effectiveness of the program and found, among other outcomes, improvement in math and reading proficiency by 22.5% and 12.6% respectively, significant increases in attendance, and a reduction in disciplinary actions by around 80% on average.
“We’re so grateful for the supports of this program,” explained East Flatbush’s principal, Daveida Daniel. “We’re learning how to embed arts education into other curriculum; learning the skills so if the resources ever go away, we still have the skills to continue on with arts education.”
Significant as the impact Turnaround Arts may have, Anne Pasternak, director of the Brooklyn Museum, where the launch announcement was held, took the opportunity to add a personal viewpoint on the value of arts education.
“I’ve never told people this, but when I was young I was diagnosed with a learning disability,” Pasternak told the crowd. “It was an art teacher who was the first person who treated me with care and dignity. It made all the difference.”