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Bringing data center stage: The numbers behind arts ed

Saturday, March 11, 2017, 2:00pm - 3:30pm
The Crawford Family Forum 474 South Raymond Ave Pasadena, CA 91105 Map and directions

In an effort to increase access and equity, arts educators have recently gotten more serious about collecting data on public school arts offerings. On Saturday, March 11, KPCC arts education reporter Priska Neely hosted a conversation on the importance of arts education data – what we know so far and what information is still missing. Pat Wayne, program director of createCA, and Denise Grande, head of arts education at the L.A. County Arts Commission, joined KPCC reporter Priska Neely to discuss the data collection initiatives under way at their respective organizations that are designed to help California schools see what is working and where gaps exist. Through these databases, they also seek to help bring schools into compliance with the California law that requires instruction in the visual and performing arts. Michael Despars from Fullerton Joint Union High School District and Veronica Lizardi from Downey Unified School District joined the panel to discuss how data has changed perspectives on arts education at their schools.

Data first

The California state education code mandates visual and performing arts education: Schools must include visual and performing arts – music, dance, visual art and theater – in their curriculum for grades one through six and must offer these subjects to all students in grades seven through 12. Yet only 26 percent of students have access to all four arts disciplines, as is required. Denise Grande, the head of arts education for the L.A. County Arts Commission, and createCA program director Pat Wayne said collecting data is the starting point for improving arts education access and equity. “Without the data, you’re just another person with an opinion,” Wayne said, referencing a quote from management consultant Peter Drucker: “‘What gets measured gets managed,’” she said.

The L.A. County Arts Commission and createCA have data collection initiatives under way. In fall 2016, the statewide arts education collaborative createCA – in partnership with the nationwide Arts Education Data Project and the California Department of Education – started a database that tracks arts education offerings in the state. The data they collected is broken down by county, school district and individual school and by type (dance, music, theater, or visual art).

Data collected through the initiative, called the California Arts Education Data Project, is available on createCA’s website. “[The database] really puts the information right into the hands of parents, teachers and administrators,” Wayne said. The intent, she said, is to allow the database to be “a tool for advocacy and for equity.”

To fill in the missing pieces of the statewide project, the L.A. County Arts Commission is launching its own countywide data initiative called the Arts Education Profile. The Arts Education Profile launched March 1, Grande said, and she hopes that as many of the 2,200 schools in L.A. County as possible complete that survey before it closes on April 28. The purpose of the survey, Grande said, is threefold: to allow school districts to use the data to inform their arts education planning, to detect new trends that inform their future work and to create a clear picture of what arts are happening and where. “This new arts education profile is going to be the new baseline for measuring how arts education is or is not increasing over time,” Grande said.

“One of the things we’re really concerned about is equity,” said Wayne. “In our state, there is a disproportionate...number of students of color who are – for whatever reason, and there are several – prevented from accessing and participating in the arts,” she said. “That takes on real importance when you think about where the jobs are going, because we need to be graduating creative thinkers.”

So far, the California Arts Education Data Project found that more than 100,000 students in California had no access to arts instruction in school in the 2015–2016 school year. The database also shows a little more than one third of students enrolled in some form of arts class both statewide and countywide.  

On the ground

Veronica Lizardi, director of instructional support programs at Downey Unified School District, said that the data was “eye-opening” for her district. When it began working with Arts for All, the education initiative staffed by the L.A. County Arts Commission and the L.A. County Office of Education, the data showed them “pockets of excellence” but also gaps, Lizardi said. Downey’s general arts instruction summary revealed there were no dance offerings in the district.

“It was a little bit alarming,” Lizardi said, “even more alarming for me to see that, personally.” As a student, Lizardi obtained a dance scholarship to her university of choice. “For me, the arts were my way in.”

What has been encouraging, Lizardi said, is that since looking at the data, Downey has seen a group of passionate stakeholders step up, eager to help create a plan to fill their gaps. “We have some needs, but we have a lot of amazing educators, parents as well as administrators who are so passionate and want to help,” said Lizardi. Improving arts education offerings is particularly important to the district given a new strategic master plan that prioritizes a globally competitive, 21st-century education, she said. “It’s part of what we believe in. If we want our students to be able to go out there and be competitive with anybody, the arts is part of that.”

Michael Despars, lead visual and performing arts teacher at Fullerton Joint Union High School District in Orange County and president-elect of the California Educational Theatre Association, said the data also surprised his district. “We showed 12 students enrolled in theater courses according to the data on the [California Arts Education Data Project] website, when I know personally I teach 160,” Despars said. They realized the only data being reported was from the district’s International Baccalaureate theater courses, he said: “We were miscoding classes.”

Now the district is working on correcting its course-coding problem and making sure the data is accurately represented in the createCA database – something Despars said is particularly important in northern Orange County, where parents actively seek the best arts education for their children. “It’s a wake-up call for us to do the right things because we’re already offering the right things,” Despars said.

Wayne and Grande were optimistic about what these data projects will mean for arts education in California. Wayne explained that after New Jersey paved the way with its own data collection project, California is one of a first cohort of four states to have been chosen for a national arts education data collection program. “New Jersey was having amazing results: They’re up to 98 percent access to arts education,” Wayne said.