Ten Years Later: A Puzzling Picture of Arts Education in America

Posted by Mr. Narric Rome, Apr 02, 2012 22 comments

Narric Rome

On April 2, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released a study glamorously entitled Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools 1999-2000 and 2009-10.

The surveys that contributed to this report were conducted through the NCES Fast Response Survey System (FRSS), mailed to about 3,400 elementary and secondary school principals and approximately 5,000 music and visual arts teachers.

National arts education leaders, through policy statements, have been calling for this study to be administered for many years, and helped to direct specific funding from Congress to make it possible.

Ten years is a long time to wait for a federal study to be published and finally it has arrived!

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).

  • It indicates that 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.
  • 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. Sadly, the study was unable to survey dance and theatre specialists because the data sample didn’t have sufficient contact information in those disciplines.

Despite being designated a “core academic subject” in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 and being included in mandated elementary school curriculum in 44 states, this survey demonstrates that access to arts education remains elusive to a tremendous number of students across the nation.

This may not be surprising to many following the state of our education system as recent surveys from Common Core and the National Arts Education Foundation have provided fresh evidence of the arts being a victim of the narrowing of the curriculum.

Furthermore, this report mostly found schools with the highest percentage of free or reduced-price lunch-eligible populations significantly less likely to provide students with access to arts education at both the elementary and secondary levels.

This means that the nation’s poorest students, the ones who could benefit the most from arts education, are receiving it the least.

While the FRSS report does provide valuable information about how the arts are being offered in our public schools at the aggregate level—broken down by region, demographic community types, school enrollment size, and population of minority and reduced or free lunch students—the study is unable to provide this on a state by state basis.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the press conference releasing the report.

Data collection at the state level is essential to ensuring equitable access to arts instruction for all students. Existing state studies indicate an uneven landscape in providing access to arts education.

A current list of state studies is available on our website and the Arts Education Partnership’s state policy database contains further information on state education policies and practices.

In addition to revealing critical equity gaps in access to arts education, this study tells us a little about the quality of arts education such as teacher preparation and availability of instruction to students; the availability of appropriate facilities and equipment for instruction; and the use of standards-based curriculum. Further measures of quality are needed to get a better picture of the status of arts education.

Ultimately, national studies on arts education are rare and more are desperately needed. Virtually every major educational reform effort is built using federal and state data, so data in arts education must be collected with a rigor and sense of purpose equal to that of all other core academic subjects.

While some of the data about access to arts education was encouraging from the FRSS report, daily news reports from across the country continue to show local communities struggling to keep teachers and programs in place.

So what can advocates do to improve arts education?

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.

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. For more ideas, check out our list of The Top 10 Ways to Support Arts Education.

As education reform efforts continue at the state and federal levels, advocates can use the resources above to make the case for strengthening arts education locally.

Additional analysis of the FRSS report Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 2009-10 will be forthcoming in the next several weeks.

In the interim, please email us any FRSS or arts education related questions.

Thank you to the research assistance provided by Arts Education Coordinator Kristen Engebretsen and Government Affairs Fellow Kelly Fabian. You can read prepared remarks about the release of the report by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on ED.gov.

22 responses for Ten Years Later: A Puzzling Picture of Arts Education in America


Kristen Engebretsen says
April 03, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Thanks for that update, Deb!

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April 03, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Dear Narric and Kristen
Thanks so much for all the information on the latest and revealing state of the arts as standards in education. For dance and theater, it is distressing; for the "disadvantaged" or challenged it is unacceptable. none of it is surprising, and that's sad.
Best to you both

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Savona Bailey-McClain says
April 03, 2012 at 11:40 pm

I feel that educators are to blame for lack of the "arts" in students lives. Schools took on the role of parent and wiped out piano teachers, drama coaches and dance teachers who lived and worked in communities. Parents would pay for these services and had more of a say. Instead teachers offered to do it all, destroying a vital economy even though it was small. And the infrastructure hard to rebuild.

As soon as budgets needed to be cut, the arts were cut first leaving students with no alternatives. Hybrid models are now needed where there is some arts in the schools but neighborhood based programs need to fill the void. And parents have to contribute. Artists need to be paid like everyone else. Building such an infrastructure would improve quality of life especially in poorer communities.

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April 06, 2012 at 11:56 am

I am a private music teacher and a public school teacher and I can tell you that people can not afford to "Pay" for private lessons. The exposure at schools is the only time poor students get any exposure to the arts. If anything private teachers need to try and find sources of income to serve the poor students to take them to higher levels of knowledge.

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April 04, 2012 at 2:50 pm

I volunteer for an after-school program in South Central Los Angeles. We are the only program at John Muir Middle School that offers music and dance. It is very true that because these kids live in a challenging and impoverished area of LA they don't have any arts programs. When will administrators understand that without the arts, these children have no outlet of expression. Why is that the only way they can get it is to go to a Magnet school? It should be offered anywhere. Children are being schooled to only take directions, not to think for themselves or have artistic expression. Universities don't only look for the kids with a high GPA solely. They look for kids who are well-rounded and have something to offer too.

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April 03, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Oregon did its own state-level research last year with the 09-10 school year data and we are in the process of doing it again with the 10-11 data. We accessed Department of Education information about highly qualified teachers to measure how many schools offer some kind of art class (visual, dance, music, theatre or media). The information will be presented in a state-level report and also in a database that allows users to search by school or district to compare year-to-year changes. The 09-10 report is online and the 10-11 report is slated to be released in June 2012. http://www.oregonartscommission.org/sites/www.oregonartscommission.org/f...

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April 02, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Thanks for the summary, Narric, and for your reminder that we need data on the quality of arts education. Looking forward to the additional analysis you mentioned.

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April 02, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Narric, and all the readers of this and other blogs at AFTA - I know WHY these statistics are so gloomy. I know why they will NOT improve. And I know how to REVERSE this trend. Interested? Email me at [email protected].

Tom Tresser
Creativity Champion

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April 04, 2012 at 2:23 am

As a former music educator, I have been appalled for quite some time at the cavalier attitude taken by school administrators towards the arts. Basic music and art education should be part of everyday classroom activities in elementary schools. (Back in the dark ages /40's-50's/ when I was in elem school, we had music 3 days a week and art 2 days. We learned to sing and read music and do simple rhythms. Not much, but tons better than nothing! High school had band, orchestra and theater classes as electives. Going forward, I was part of enriching that scenario, but it's all gone now. Except in the affluent suburbs.

These disciplines enrich students' lives and provide for some the REASON to stay in school. Students who play an instrument do better in math and all their subjects across the board.

A change needs to be made NOW.

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April 04, 2012 at 8:42 am

Because the arts are so important to raising the bar for all of our nation, this information is essential to obtain and support for all who can read it.

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Mr. Narric Rome says
April 05, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Yes, Americans for the Arts is working with other national arts education organizations, like the Arts Education Partnership to review the full report and put together a toolkit, much like we did when the National Assessment of Educational Progress in the Arts came out in 2009. We'll have preliminary materials ready soon, but because of the depth of this report, we expect the full toolkit will be out later this summer.

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Kristen Engebretsen says
April 10, 2012 at 10:05 am

Hi Rima, the full report does in fact contain a few specifics:
1) the availability of a dance specialist to teach the subject;
2) the use of dedicated facilities/equipment to teach the subject;
3) whether the instruction was specifically for dance, or if it was integrated into PE, music, or another subject.
While the data collection for dance was NOT on par with music and visual arts, we at least have these details.

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April 05, 2012 at 9:08 am

Will the NEA or AFTA release an advocacy toolkit using this data like those produced in California from Artsed411.org and Keepartsinschools.org. Would others find a resource like this useful?

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Laura Chapman says
April 09, 2012 at 12:26 am

Much of the data in the FRSS Survey on arts education in elementary and secondary schools was provided by a survey of principals in 2009. For a different take on arts education, with teachers providing infromation, look at the 2011 MetLife Survey. Some highlights: More than one third (36%) of teachers report that during the past 12 months there have been reductions or eliminations of programs in arts or music (23%), foreign language (17%) or physical education (12%). Reports on these reductions or eliminations are higher among teachers in urban areas than in suburban or rural areas (46% vs. 32% vs. 32%), and by teachers in schools with one-third or more English Language Learners (ELL) than with fewer ELL students (43% vs. 33%). Teachers in schools with more than two-thirds minority students are more likely than others to report reductions or eliminations of arts or music programs at their school (30% vs. 19%). p. 30 http://www.metlife.com/assets/cao/contributions/foundation/american-teac...

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Rima Faber says
April 06, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Sadly, dance was not included in the FRSS report due to a lack of program inclusion. Even the meager percentages cited do not differentiate whether dance was being offered in PE by a PE teacher as opposed to a dance specialist trained in the art of dance! Schools often assign Dance to a PE teacher who has 3 credits (one term) of dance experience. How many dance programs are taught by certified dance specialists qualified to teach dance? To quote Martha Graham, "It takes 10 years to make a dancer." (From the film, "A Dancer's World," 1957).

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April 07, 2012 at 4:57 pm

With testing on the rise and accountablility, the arts have taken a back seat to educating our students. The arts provide students with diverse opportunities to express their knowledge and enhance the critical eye for questioning and attention to detail. The arts are important to every student, especially those who don't have access to or struggle in school. Art can be that modality to nudge students in the right direction and reason for doing well in school. It is important we are recognizing the harm we are doing by not including the arts in our curriculum.

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Rod says
May 13, 2012 at 11:15 pm

I have been teaching music for more than 10 years in this country. The arts are being squeezed and not in a good way. We don't have a lot of these issues in Brazil where I am from.

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NickK says
September 11, 2012 at 9:50 pm

I don't know if the majority of Americans still labour under the misinformation that Cuba is evil, but consider this -most countries outside the US, with Cuba at the forefront, make music mandatory in the majority of schools..and America leads the world in violence against family, strangers, self, and state, not to mention other countries...

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Sarah T says
November 20, 2012 at 8:32 pm

When you look around at the most successful, controversial and inspirational artists today, it's not often they are birthed from squeaky clean perfect backgrounds. Art is an expression of emotion and it's vital for these less advantaged kids to be supported and have the necessary resources to express and nurture their creative talents! A paintbrush can turn a delinquent into Dali!

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Sarah says
March 05, 2013 at 9:24 pm

A big part of me honestly believes that art as a form of expression could be the cure to a lot of budding mental health issues happening in society. With the pressures of academia, it is almost essential to have a release of creativity and be surrounded by criticism and support from surrounding peers. There needs to be more art! Sick of it being thrown away like a lesser subject..

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Heather says
June 17, 2013 at 3:15 am

I think art education should be essential both at elementary and secondary levels. Through art people can discover new things, express their emotions and make the world more colorful in general.

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April 10, 2015 at 1:06 am

First of all I would say thanks to Narric and Kristen for sharing such important information on the latest and revealing state of the arts as standards in education. I have completed my Fine art education so please can you suggest me what can I do for next or I looking forward to the further analysis as you mentioned in your article.

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