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Creative economy study reports mixed news for arts education

Fourth graders at Meadows Arts and Technology Elementary School take part in a music class on Tuesday morning, March 31, 2015. MATES is one of only 13 schools in California that was recognized in 2014 for having an exemplary arts education program
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Fourth-graders at Meadows Arts and Technology Elementary School in Thousand Oaks take part in a music class on Tuesday morning, March 31, 2015. The school is ranked among the state's top arts education programs.

A newly released statewide report shows arts education both gained ground and retreated over a six-year period. 

Data on arts education is notoriously hard to find, but the Otis Report on the Creative Economy offers a glimpse at how the arts are being taught to K-12 students across California. 

RELATED: Arts teachers in LA County schools decreased by 10 percent

Lawmakers took up the report at a Wednesday hearing in Sacramento of the Joint Committee on the Arts chaired by state Sen. Ben Allen (D-Dist. 26). Arts education is a small portion of the report, which tracks jobs and other economic markers of California's creative fields like entertainment and publishing.

The good news for arts-ed supporters is the trend lines are up: More people are teaching and taking creative courses than back in the 2007-2008 school year. 

Since that time, engineering and design classes increased their female students by 60 percent, though enrollment declined in 2012-2013, the most recent school year studied. 

But the number of teachers and students taking courses in creative fields also dropped after four years of growth. 

The report’s authors say it’s not clear what caused the recent declines, but they may be tied to weak employment numbers after the federal government’s stimulus package ran out.

“I can’t readily explain it,” said Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation chief economist Robert Kleinhenz, a co-author of the report. Kleinhenz said researchers would need to reach out to local school districts, and others, to get a fuller picture of what caused the decline.

Craig Watson, director of the California Arts Council that helped fund the report, said strong arts instruction ultimately strengthens the state's economy. 

"An arts education is critical to a child’s development," he said. "And so those are skills that translate into very important job skills in the workforce that we're hopefully growing for the 21st century."

Statewide, there are a little over 10,000 full-time K-12 teaching positions for creative subjects. 

A regional study of L.A. and Orange counties on the creative economy was released last month.