Arts Education Status Report Released: Equity Gaps Remain

by Laurie Baskin

in Education

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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.

This report presents information on the availability and characteristics of arts education programs of those surveyed, broken down by discipline (music, visual arts, dance, and theatre). A few key findings:

  • While 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, which means a majority of students are receiving arts 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.
  • However, only three percent offer any specific dance instruction and only four percent offer any specific theatre instruction in elementary schools. In secondary schools the numbers improve somewhat as 12 percent offer dance and 45 percent offer theatre. Unfortunately, the study was unable to survey dance and theatre specialists because the data sample didn’t have sufficient contact information in those disciplines.

It is clear that there are critical equity gaps in student access to a 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.

Arts education advocates have been working to create a toolkit to help the broader arts community understand and communicate about the Snapshot FRSS results and will make these tools available online soon. In the meantime, find the full report online.  Here are some resources that outline some steps you can take at the local level to advance the status of arts education in public schools:

Americans for the Arts recently published an Arts Education Field Guide that offers an introduction to the various constituencies impacting arts education, from school house to the White House and also has posted a list of The Top 10 Ways to Support Arts Education..

The Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network offers a community audit toolkit to help local leaders assess the status of arts education in their communities.

Laurie Baskin is TCG’s Director of Government and Education Programs.