Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional, several-part series looking at arts education in Santa Clarita Valley school district.
Typically when budgets are tight, the arts are the first area to lose funding or experience cuts; however, in Los Angeles County, schools have made arts education a priority for their students, regardless of fluctuating finances, according to a new survey.
The county-wide survey completed by the Los Angeles County Arts Education Collective, formerly Arts for All, found that nearly every public school in Los Angeles County offers at least some kind of arts instruction and that most schools offer at least two arts disciplines as part of their curriculum.
“We found that, in general, the quantity of arts education is higher at the elementary level, while the quality of arts instruction is higher at the secondary level,” the survey read.
Completed over the course of two years, the survey was administered to all 2,277 public schools in Los Angeles County and was completed by 924 schools in 78 districts, which included schools in all five school districts in the Santa Clarita Valley. Through its questions, the survey evaluated the quality and quantity of arts education at all grade levels in Los Angeles County’s public schools.
The survey found that 89.6 percent elementary schools and 92.7 percent of secondary schools, or high schools, in LA County offered arts education to at least some students, and that 53.4 percent of elementary schools and 36.6 percent of secondary schools reported offering arts instruction after school.
Of these arts offering, the most commonly available discipline for elementary school students was music, which was offered by 71.4 percent of schools, and the most commonly available discipline for secondary students was visual arts, which was offered by 81.8 percent of schools.
Dance was the most consistent discipline among grade levels as it was offered by 32.1 percent of all schools with elementary grades and 29.7 percent of all schools with secondary grades.
“In general, arts education becomes more widely available as students get older, but there is a notable decline that occurs at grade 8, after which arts instruction rises again, though never to the same height,” the survey read. “It appears arts instruction peaks in the middle school years.”
The survey noted that although more arts instruction is offered at the elementary level, the quality of arts instruction is higher at the secondary level due to increased usage of technology, additional assessments of student learning in the arts, teacher participation in professional development in the arts and integration of the arts into classroom instruction.
Secondary level schools also tended to have more funding in their budgets to provide higher quality arts education, especially in visual arts and media arts.
“Three-quarters of schools with secondary grades use district funding while only half of schools with elementary grades do. Nearly three-quarters of schools with secondary grades use school site based funding, while it is used by forty percent of schools with elementary grades,” the survey read. “Federal funds play a role in funding secondary arts education, while local education foundations are more prominent at the elementary level.”
The survey also found some inequities throughout the county as schools with large percentages of students enrolled in free and reduced price meal programs, students who are English Learners and students of color offered less arts instruction and lesser quality instruction.
To increase the quantity, quality and equity of arts education, the LA County Arts Education Collective recommended that districts should select a measure of quantity or quality and set a goal of improving it, examine their arts offerings at schools with different student populations, and examine feeder patterns for arts disciplines students can pursue through graduation.
“This study finds that arts education is part of the curriculum in most LA County public schools, that its quality can be improved, and that persistent problems of equity must be addressed if we are to ensure that all students have the benefits of high quality arts education,” the survey read.
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_