Before the Arts Education Data Project commenced five years ago, California had no way to calculate progress toward state laws dictating that every student's complete education should include the arts. Now, with five years worth of data assembled, we hope we can not only inspire our partners and policymakers but also encourage you to rally with your community and push for arts learning in your district.
New Jersey launched its Arts Education Census Project in 2014; a comprehensive dashboard displaying just how many students statewide have access to and participate in arts education. Since New Jersey’s efforts, other states — California included — have created their own dashboards with similar intentions in mind. Data helps inform our decisions and validate our suspicions. We already know arts education is vital, and California needs it now more than ever. But how do we prove something so vital to student success should be a priority for policymakers?
We can help enforce arts education with data. Data has revealed that nationwide, and contrary to state regulations, most U.S. schools are severely lagging in arts education. California’s arts education data is specifically daunting, with a 60 percent decrease in arts funding over the last decade and 88 percent of schools failing to meet basic education requirements for arts learning. Many students lack access to arts courses, and those who have access might be blocked from those courses and are unaware, or are unaware of how to advocate for themselves.
But art is a fundamental right. And despite a state law requiring California’s public schools to provide arts education, only 39 percent of students have access to music, dance, theatre, or visual arts classes. Compounding this injustice, students with little or no access live predominantly in low-income communities and/or are Latinx, Black, or charter school attendees. Our students desperately need your help: In the past five years, student participation in arts courses increased by a mere 3.2 percent. At this rate, it will take us 40 years to reach the national average. Here’s where the data comes in.
The data collected by the Arts Education Data Project provides policymakers and professionals with the justification of the importance of the arts by demonstrating the impact arts learning has on students and their surrounding communities. Parents can use the data as well, using it to expertly inform decisions on what schools to send their kids to by deciphering inequities between districts. The same information is also hugely helpful to teachers looking to chart a course toward arts education goals in their classrooms. Data can help students too, allowing them to compare schools based on the number of hours their school has devoted to arts instruction in the four disciplines (visual arts, dance, theater, music). It can similarly empower students to advocate for themselves and to their right — by law — to a complete education.
Arts should be at the core of every California student’s education. The Arts Education Data Project makes it possible for us to measure the effect of arts instruction on students’ academic and emotional development, both of which are proven to be heavily impacted by arts learning. And with this information, we can adequately advocate. The metrics we should be tracking to ensure we can support California’s students are as follows:
- What percentage of students have access to arts instruction?
- Which of the four arts disciplines do these students have access to?
- Is access to education in each of the arts disciplines consistent across grade levels?
- What percentage of students participate in arts instruction?
- What percentage of students participate in instruction in each of the arts disciplines?
- Does participation differ among grade levels?
Once you’ve gathered the relevant data, you can take steps toward on-the-ground advocacy. Review California’s arts education requirements, set goals for each metric and track progress, and hold leaders accountable for violating education standards in policy settings. Show up at school, community, and legal functions and demand change. Showing up and drawing attention to the enormous gaps in California’s arts education data is the first step in enacting change.
Data means we’ve unlocked a unique chance to transform the current state of arts education. On top of this, recent policy changes at the national and state level have shifted focus to a comprehensive curriculum inclusive of the arts and given local school districts the power to reinvest in arts education. There is a growing appreciation and need for the creative skills that only arts learning provides — skills that are essential to academic success, social and emotional development, and access to more diverse and lucrative careers.
We require the Arts Education Data Project’s data to persuade the people at the top to increase arts funding so that we can promote not just creativity but healing on an academic and communal level. Let’s guarantee our children’s children are never without the arts.
“Knowledge is Power”
– Sir Francis Bacon