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LA schools' drop in arts teachers dragged down county numbers

Music teacher Linda Mouradian teaches at San Fernando Elementary School.
Music teacher Linda Mouradian teaches at San Fernando Elementary School.
Ken Scarboro/KPCC

The Los Angeles Unified School District has lost about 200 full-time arts teacher positions since the 2010-2011 school year, according to the most recent data available from the California Department of Education, suggesting the district is responsible for more than half of the loss cited in a new report last week.

The Otis report on the Creative Economy found that L.A. County lost 10 percent of its arts teachers between the 2010-2011 to 2011-2012 school years. Countywide, teachers fell 7.8 percent during that time. L.A. Unified makes up about 42 percent of the students in the county.

The data examined by KPCC provides a snapshot of arts teachers, but is not comprehensive. KPCC looked at the four main art categories  - dance, art, drama and music - in the California Department of Education's subject area courses data sets. The numbers are calculated by "full-time equivalent" measures, meaning a full-time teacher is 1.00, and a half-time position is .50.

Data by subject area courses for K-12 art, dance, drama and music using numbers based on Full-Time Equivalent teachers. This chart focuses on the four main art categories provided by CDE — CDE also offers data on other teaching positions that may include the arts that were not included in this chart (for example, advanced placement studio art and web design categories were not included). (Chart produced by Mike Roe/KPCC)

The most recent available L.A. County statistics show gains in the number of full-time arts teaching positions in the year following what was included in the Otis report - about 30 positions were added to the 2012-2013 school year from 2011-2012. But at the district level, Los Angeles Unified lost about 45 teaching positions during the same time period. 

In Orange County, the Otis Report found that full-time equivalent arts teaching positions edged up slightly, half a percentage point, while overall numbers of teachers in the districts were boosted by 15.7 percent for 2011-12. It did not drill down by districts within counties.

"One of the immediate things that struck us in the data is it's a very broad brush," said Laura Zucker, executive director of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, referring to the Otis report. "A decline in one school district like LAUSD, which we know has happened the past few years, can negate really the wonderful work that's happening in so many other school districts around the county where we know capacity is being added."

There are 80 K-12 school districts in L.A. County.

Zucker also said California Department of Education data, used by KPCC and the Otis College of Art and Design, don't include all arts teachers. Classroom teachers who incorporate arts into the school day aren't counted; neither are arts teachers from outside groups that partner with school districts. These teaching artists are commonly used by districts to supplement arts access. 

Zucker said she was pleased to see arts course enrollment in L.A. County was similar in 2011-12 to what it was pre-recession, according to the Otis report. Otis also found arts classes in L.A. County were up more than 20 percent between 2005-2006 and 2011-12.

Zucker said her group will partner with Otis to get a better count of arts education instruction in L.A. County for the 2014 report.