Bill Cosby, Orange Township and the State of Arts Education

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

If Orange Township wanted to generate excitement for the city’s Back-to-School Rally in early September, the administration chose the right guy.

“Our children can branch out. They can have jobs with their education, but jobs that they chose,” said Bill Cosby. A crowd of all ages gathered to hear the TV icon discuss the importance of education.

Why are the arts a part of that? “Well, the arts have to be a part of it because children know they feel it and they like it, but inculcated also happens to be the sciences, math,” Cosby explained.

Cosby says learning techniques for artistic expression at a young age is also vital for future success in that field. “They may be very, very inventive, but without the technique, then a child can very well be lost,” he says.

Tenth-, eleventh- and twelfth-graders in Orange have been lucky that way. According to the state’s most recent school performance reports, at Orange High School, over 75 percent of students participate in arts education. The state average? Forty-seven percent.

The school provides classes in music, theater, visual arts and dance. While this is a requirement of New Jersey’s core curriculum standards, Orange is in the minority by meeting that benchmark.

Peter Crosta is arts supervisor for Orange schools — a position many districts don’t have. He attributes high student participation to dedicated staff members and a district-wide commitment to arts education.

“We’ve always had superintendents of schools and boards of education that are very supportive of the arts because I believe that deep down they believe that the arts will improve test scores, they’ll help in building character in kids,” Crosta said.

Even here, though, five arts positions were eliminated on the elementary school level when state education funding was cut. How can parents stay informed? New Jersey Arts Education Partnership fought to make the state the first to include the arts in school performance reports. In May, Partnership Chair and Arts Education Research Firm CEO Bob Morrison unveiled the organization’s Online Data Dashboard — created to make report results easily available.

“With this information, parents now have a tool to be able to hold their own school communities accountable for what students have access to, what they don’t have access to and now engage in a conversation,” explained Morrison.

Morrison says budgetary concerns may be at the heart of school cuts, but anything that affects students directly should be a last resort. He recommends districts look into resource sharing and go over the budget with a fine-tooth comb. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said.

Orange has the will. Crosta says he hopes to ultimately restore the cut positions. In the meantime, the township’s schools, like others, will rely on sharing teacher resources to get the job done.