Unpicking the Equity Knot in Arts Education
If you were to untangle the unified, multi-layered rope that is arts education in public schools in this country, would you find equal amounts of art, music, theater, and dance strands?
Without thinking, most of us would say mildly, “well, not exactly.”
As a theater person, I realize this too, but it can’t be THAT unequal, right?
The Snapshot of Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 2009-10 (a first look at top level national data from the upcoming FRSS study), published on Monday reveals a huge gap between the number of schools that offer art (83 percent) and music (94 percent) instruction and those that offer drama/theater (4 percent) and dance (3 percent) instruction at the elementary school level.
The secondary school level results showed not quite as large a gap – art (89 percent), music (91 percent), drama/theater (45 percent), dance (12 percent) – but still present.
What is more, in relation to the 1999-2000 FRSS Study on Arts Education, drama/theater and dance instruction fell by 15 and 17 percentage points respectively in elementary schools and only slightly in secondary schools, while art and music remained the same or gained percentage penetration.
As this is only a snapshot, there will be more complete information revealed late 2011 about what this data means when the full report is published.
In the meantime, this top level national data has prompted me to ask the forbidden question.
I’m just going to put it out there: why is there such disparity among the art forms in terms of arts education presence in schools? (Cue worms coming from inside a can).
Please know, by asking this question I do not mean to de-value the treasured art forms of visual art and music.
Rather, my intention is to celebrate what these art forms are doing well with hopes that we can raise the level of penetration in schools of drama/theater and dance education (no data yet on the media arts).
Also, I should mention, I don’t have the answer, just more questions.
Questions about the results of the survey:
Is the data correct?
Is it skewed by virtue of the nature of respondents (principals)?
What has caused the decrease in drama/theater and dance programs since the 1999-2000 study?
And grander questions about our field:
Are visual art and music doing a better job of marketing or communicating the value of their education programs and student outcomes? Is there more money? More support from businesses, the press, established artists?
Are there more teacher training programs and subsequently more qualified educators in these subjects?
Is it the dwindling state budgets requiring narrowing of curricula and exclusion of arts programs?
Perhaps lack of support from state education policy (only 18 states require one full year equivalent in the visual and performing arts) is contributing to the need for the “pick one” approach
Please join me in asking more questions or providing answers to mine in the comments box below.
I understand the tendency to shy away from these questions, keep the threads united and the worms in the can, so to speak.
From the art and music educators’ point of view – those pesky theater and dance people making a stink about equity may infringe on our programs. And rightfully so.
The time (and $) in a school day is so precious; collectively we would rather AN arts education program rather than NO arts education program.
So let me re-phrase my first question (cue stuffing the worms back in can).
How can we steer education stakeholders away from the “pick one” approach and communicate the value of not only a complete education but a complete arts education?