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Latest report on California arts education shows progress, if slow

Members of the arts education coalition say the data shows that progress is being made.
Dean Hochman/Flickr Creative Commons
Members of the arts education coalition say the data shows that progress is being made.

There's been a push to expand arts education in California in recent years. New numbers out today from Create CA, one of the groups behind that effort, paint a mixed picture: while some headway has been made, it's been slow. 

Overall, the number of students who participate in the arts increased from 38 to 39 percent.

"It's showing some forward progress," explained Pat Wayne, program director at Create CA. "Not of course what we'd hope it would be, but we're going in the right direction." 

One of the biggest changes highlighted in the report is a 26 percent drop in the number of students around the state who don't have access to any type of arts instruction. 

Wayne said part of that might be due to a correction of how data is reported, but another big factor was an effort to reach out to districts and counties to develop strategic arts plans and to identify where access may not be equitable.

Here's what Wayne had to say about some of the biggest findings from the report: 

Most California students in 6th-12th grades have at least some access to arts education

The data show over 97 percent of those students have access "to some level of arts education."

"That's not horrible, but the question I always ask myself is, 'Would that be okay if we were talking about reading?'" Wayne said. "That, 'Oh, only three percent of the kids don't learn how to read?'"

Wayne pointed to the California education code.

As KPCC has reported before, the law requires dance, music, theater, and visual arts instruction from 1st to 6th grade, and that those arts disciplines are offered to students between 7th and 12th grades.

However, only 25 percent of students in the data are offered all four.

But some students don't get as much access to arts education as others

Students at schools with larger percentages of students who receive free and reduced lunch have lower participation rates in the arts.

That mirrors a Los Angeles County Arts Ed Collective survey that showed schools in the county with higher percentages of students who received free and reduced price lunches had lower quality and quantity of arts instruction, as KPCC reported last year.

Another group that had less access to arts education: English language learners.

"In urban areas, the students–especially second language learners– are blocked from actually taking the arts because they have double periods of language arts," she explained. "So even if [an arts class] might be there, they will never be able to take it because of the restrictions that have been put on them."

The report also shows that "students with no access to the arts were overrepresented in charter schools," according to the press release.

Wayne said she wasn't entirely sure about the cause of this finding, but said she thought that it might have to do with the way charter schools are organized.

"I would say during the last 10 years–probably more–you saw a lot of charter schools that were totally focused in on science and math, and their curriculum reflected that," she explained. "Whereas the traditional public schools are more under the umbrella of the district direction."

Altogether, Wayne said the data makes her feel hopeful, "even if we didn't make some huge leap forward."

She said she believes the data from the next four years will better reflect efforts with school districts and counties to increase access and participation in the arts.