Hewlett Foundation-commissioned study assessed status of arts education in California

This is a summary of key findings in An Unfinished Canvas:

Overview of Arts Education in California

  89% of California K-12 schools fail to offer a standards-based course of study in all four

disciplines—music, visual arts, theatre, and dance—and thus fall short of state goals for arts education.

 Methods of delivering arts instruction vary by school level, often resulting in a limited experience at the elementary level and limited participation at the secondary level.

 61% of schools do not have even one full-time-equivalent arts specialist, although secondary schools are much more likely than elementary schools to employ specialists.

 At the elementary level, arts instruction is often left to regular classroom teachers, who rarely have adequate training.

  Arts facilities and materials are lacking in most schools.

  Standards alignment, assessment, and accountability practices are uneven in arts education, and often not present at all.

 Arts Education in Elementary Schools

  90% of elementary schools fail to provide a standards-aligned course of study across all four arts disciplines.

  Elementary students who receive arts education in California typically have a limited, less substantial experience than their peers across the country.

 Inadequate elementary arts education provides a weak foundation for more advanced arts courses in the upper grades.

Arts Education in Middle and High Schools

 96% of California middle schools and 72% of high schools fail to offer standards-aligned courses of study in all four arts disciplines.

 Secondary arts education is more intense and substantial than elementary arts education, but participation is limited.

Change Over Time in Arts Enrollment

 Enrollment in arts courses has remained stable over the last 5 years, with the exception of music, which has seen a dramatic decline.

Unequal Access to Arts Education

 Students attending high-poverty schools have less access to arts instruction than their peers in more affluent communities.

Barriers to Meeting the State’s Arts Education Goals

 Inadequate state funding for education is a top barrier to the provision of arts education, and reliance on outside funding sources, such as parent groups, creates inequities.

 Pressure to improve test scores in other content areas is another top barrier to arts education.

 At the elementary level, lack of instructional time, arts expertise, and materials are also significant barriers to arts education.

Sources of Support for Arts Education

 Districts and counties can play a strong role in arts education, but few do.

 Schools are increasingly partnering with external organizations, but few partnerships result in increased school capacity to provide sequential, standards-based arts instruction.


State Policy-Makers

 Increase and stabilize education funding so that districts can develop and support a standards based course of study in each of the four arts disciplines.

 Strengthen accountability in arts education by requiring districts to report on the arts instruction provided, student learning in the arts, and providers of arts instruction, and by supporting the development of appropriate, standards-aligned assessments for use at the state and district levels.

 Rethink instructional time to accommodate the state’s goals for meeting proficiency in English language, arts and math, while still providing access to a broader curriculum that includes the arts.

 Improve teacher professional development in arts education, especially at the elementary level, and consider credential reforms.

 Provide technical assistance to build districts’ capacity to offer comprehensive, standards-based arts programs.

School and District Leaders

 Establish the infrastructure needed to support arts programs by developing a long-range strategic plan for arts education, dedicating resources and staff, and providing for the ongoing evaluation of arts programs.

 Signal to teachers, parents, and students that the arts are a core subject by providing professional development for teachers and establishing assessment and accountability systems for arts education.


 Ask about student learning and progress in the arts, and participate in school and district efforts to improve and expand arts education.

 Advocate for comprehensive arts education at the state and local levels.



About artsoceducation

Pat Wayne is Director of Programs and Education for Arts Orange County, the county-wide arts council. She is also a parent in the Saddleback School District and past PTA President. The arts transformed her life in the second grade and she went on to major in theater design and earn a Master's in Arts Administration.
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