The American Public Says YES to Arts Education!
This is the first of four blog posts on Americans for the Arts’ new public opinion survey.
In December 2015, Congress passed the new Every Student Succeeds Act reauthorization, with a provision that includes the arts in the definition of a “well-rounded education.” Arts advocates certainly found something to celebrate with that, but just where does the public stand on the issue? Later that same week, Americans for the Arts conducted a nationwide public opinion survey on the arts and arts education. Findings showed:
- Americans consider the arts part of a well-rounded education: An overwhelming majority of the American public (89 percent) agrees that the arts are part of a well-rounded K-12 education—including 55 percent who “strongly agree.”
- Arts education is important at all grade levels: Nine-in-ten American adults believe that it is important for students to receive an education in the arts including dance, media arts, music, theater, and visual arts as part of the curriculum in elementary school (88 percent), middle school (90 percent), and high school (89 percent). This is a change from past studies that have shown a drop-off in support for arts education as students enter high school.
- Out-of-school arts experiences are important, too: The value of arts education is not limited to just the in-school experience. 82 percent also agree to the importance of the arts to students outside of the classroom and throughout the community.
Arts as Part of a Well-Rounded Education? "Yes, Please!" Says the American Public.
Americans show unequivocal and overwhelming support for arts education. We asked all 3,020 survey respondents the following:
“Do you agree or disagree that the arts are part of a well-rounded education for K-12 students?”
As the graph below shows, 89 percent agree that the arts are part of a well-rounded education for K-12 students, including a majority (55 percent) who strongly agree. Just 7 percent disagree about the role the arts play in creating a balanced education for children, and 5 percent were unsure.
- Interestingly, there was no difference in responses regardless of whether or not there were children in the household.
- A deeper examination of the respondents shows two groups were more likely to agree: women more than men, and “white” more than “non-white,”
- Likely voters are significantly more likely to agree than unlikely voters (91 percent vs. 78 percent).
Education in the Arts is Deemed Important at All Grade Levels
Past surveys have shown arts education to be highly valued at the elementary school level, but less so as students reached high school, where the emphasis became math and science and a more “traditional college-prep” approach. This observation was especially true among parents. We wanted to see if this still held true. We asked the 3,020 respondents the following:
“Thinking about K-12 students, in your opinion how important is it for them to receive an education in the arts (including dance, media arts, music, theater, visual arts) or other forms of creativity?”
Nine in ten Americans believe it is important for K-12 students to receive an education in the arts (including dance, media arts, music, theater, and visual arts), with nearly six in ten saying that art is “very important.” What has changed? Respondents deemed arts education valuable across all levels of K-12 education—elementary school, middle school, and high school.
Because arts education is not limited to just the in-school experience, we also asked about the importance of receiving arts education and creativity “outside-of-school and in the community.” This was seen as important by 82 percent of respondents.
- The responses to this questions show no variation with regards to race or income.
- Millennials (born 1981 or later) tended to be more likely to see this as “very important” when compared to older respondents.
Uneven Access to the Arts for Students
While the American public is decidedly bullish on the value of arts education, they are bearish on whether all students in their community have equal opportunities to engage. We asked all survey respondents a follow-up to the previous question:
“And from what you know or have heard, do you agree or disagree that students in your area have enough opportunities to hear music, go to plays, visit museums, and attend cultural events either in school or in the community?”
Sixty-one percent of Americans agree that students in their area have enough opportunities to hear music, go to plays, visit museums, and attend cultural events, either in school or in the community. Yet, three-in-ten (27 percent) disagree that students in their community have enough opportunities to attend the arts. 12 percent are unsure.
- There was no distinction between “white” and “non-white” respondents.
- Those who live in urban areas are significantly more likely to “Agree” than those living in suburban and rural areas.
- 41 percent of rural respondents disagreed as did those who are lower income (31 percent).
The public perception of unequal access to the arts comes as no surprise. A 2012 report by the U.S. Department of Education showed a decline in arts education programs for students in low-income communities and Title I schools—one so steep that then-U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called this gap “an equity issue and a civil rights issue.”
Parents are Busy, But Involved
As citizens, we all have a job to do to ensure every student has access to arts education. Who better to step up—all the way up—than the powerful cohort of parents? The last two arts education questions were about parental involvement in supporting arts education. We asked just the 24 percent of survey respondents who have children under the age of 18 living at home (738 of the 3,020) the following:
“What actions have you taken to support arts education during the past year? (Select all that apply)”
Two-thirds of parents (65 percent) say that they have taken action to support arts education during the past year—with the most common responses being encouraging their child to participate in school/community arts programs (32 percent), or donating to (20 percent) or volunteering for (17 percent) a school/community arts program.
The Road Map to Mobilizing More Parental Involvement
We all know that parents are busy. While 65 percent is a strong percentage of parents taking action to support arts education, we wanted to know why they have not taken more action, and compare those results of a 2001 survey where we asked the same. Again, this is a question only asked to the 24 percent of survey respondents who have children under the age of 18 living at home:
“Are there reasons you have not taken more action to support arts education?”
- Too busy (27 percent), conflicting priorities (16 percent), and emphasizing other important subjects (15 percent) remain among the top reasons given by parents for not having taken more action to support arts education.
- Just 7 percent say they have not taken more action to support arts education because they do not think it is important.
- In 2001, #1 reason was, “There are other people or organizations in the community who are better suited to take action” (71 percent). In 2015, just 15 percent checked this response, a huge drop. Additionally, the response moved from the top spot in 2001 to the middle-of-the-pack in 2015. While there are certainly methodological variations in the two surveys, this still represents a phenomenal decrease and suggests the work of advocates these past 15 years has had traction and empowered parents across the country to actively support arts education.
This public opinion survey is good news for those who care about the role of the arts in education. It also shows that work remains to be done. Nine in every ten Americans agrees that the arts are part of a well-rounded education—and not just in elementary school, but for all students, K-12. This support, however, has yet to translate to equal access for all students. More than a quarter of respondents believe that students in their community don't have enough opportunities to participate in arts—a figure that gets even higher for people in rural areas (41 percent) and with incomes under $50K a year (31 percent).
This is the first release of Americans for the Arts’ new survey on the public opinion of the arts. The purpose of the survey was to gauge the public’s personal engagement in the arts, their support for arts education and government arts funding, the personal benefits and well-being that comes from engaging in the arts, and if/how those benefits extend more broadly to the community. The survey was conducted in December 2015 by Ipsos Public Affairs, the third largest survey research firm in the world. To add precision to the findings, a large sample size of 3,020 adults were surveyed, online (by way of comparison, the typical national presidential poll has a sample size of just 1,000 adults). The poll has a credibility interval of plus/minus 2 percentage points.