New Report: Arts Education Only Mostly as Bad as You’d Think

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An icon of arts education

The Institute of Education Sciences, the “research arm of the U.S. Department of Education,” had just released a report on the state of arts education in public elementary and high schools for the 2009-2010 school year.

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I have to admit that arts education is doing somewhat better than I would have thought. Although, clearly, there isn’t as much as there should be. The numbers are surprisingly high, 90%, for students having arts education at all-one class, once a week. But the data drop off precipitously when the study looked at students having arts classes 3 times per week: 15% for music, 8% for visual arts.

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Dance and Drama are in worse shape: These arts are practically nonexistent in elementary schools; only 12% of high schools have dance classes and 45% have theater/drama. (Something… something… joke about high school students being dramatic…)

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And, depressingly, schools with more students from the lowest socio-economic rungs offer fewer arts classes. Which is an outrage and a scandal, but, alas, predictable. This is particularly tragic in light of a new National Endowment for the Arts study showing specific benefits of arts education for poor and at-risk students.

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And Americans for the Arts have a fact sheet on the benefits of arts education for all kids.

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Further details on this new study are available on the Institute of Education Sciences website.
The full report, as a PDF (126 pages), is available here: Arts Education Report

Here are some of the major findings, helpfully organized into sobering bullet points, from the press release:

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Arts Education Status Report Released: Equity Gaps Remain
April 4, 2012 — Washington, DC

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education released the results of the Fast Response Statistical Survey’s (FRSS) Report on Arts Education, based on data gathered in the 2009-2010 school year. The arts education community has long called for federal data collection to be more comprehensive in scope and depth and that data be collected more frequently. While the FRSS report does not provide a complete picture of the status of arts education, it does provide some valuable new information and an opportunity to provoke a public conversation about arts education. The report presents national data in two areas:

  • The availability of music, visual arts, dance, and drama/theatre instruction in public elementary and public secondary schools, the frequency of instruction, and the availability of arts specialists to teach the subject;
  • The teaching load of music and visual arts specialists in public elementary and secondary schools, and the ways in which classroom generalists and other subject-area educators teach arts education as part of their instructional program.

Here are a few key report findings:

  • The vast majority of our nation’s public elementary and secondary schools – more than 90% – offer music and visual arts instruction. At the elementary level, that includes a majority of students receiving such instruction at least once a week by a certified art or music teacher. This is a strong testament to effective advocacy for arts education programs across the country during the onset of the recession and in the wake of reading and math accountability demands on public schools.
  • Although music and visual art are widely available in some form, six percent of the nation’s public elementary schools offer no specific instruction in music, and 17 percent offer no specific instruction in the visual arts. Nine percent of public secondary schools reported that they did not offer music, and 11 percent did not offer the visual arts. Only 15 percent of elementary schools offered music instruction at least three times per week, and eight percent offered visual arts instruction at least three times per week.
  • Dance and drama/theatre are available at a much lower level of accessibility. Only three percent of public elementary schools offer dance instruction and only four percent offer drama/theatre instruction. The numbers in public secondary schools are higher with 12 percent offering dance instruction, and 45 percent offering drama/theatre instruction.
  • It is clear that there are critical equity gaps in student access to quality arts education in all arts disciplines. These gaps must be addressed if students are to have access to a complete education. The FRSS report shows that the percentage of schools offering arts education declines as the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch increases. In other words, schools with a higher concentration of students in poverty are less likely to offer arts education. This is sobering news, just as a separate new report from the National Endowment for the Arts underscores the significant academic, workforce, and civic engagement gains associated with high levels of arts exposure for youth of lower socioeconomic status.

The arts education community has been working to create a toolkit to help the broader arts community understand and communicate about the Snapshot FRSS results, and these tools will be available online soon. In the meantime, find the full report online and view the Performing Arts Alliance’s Arts Education Tools & Resources webpage to learn what kind of steps you can take to advance the status of arts education in public schools.