Data project aims to paint a detailed picture of arts ed in LA County

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Last fall, a statewide data project revealed some bleak statistics about the state of arts instruction in California: More than 100,000 students attending California schools had no access to arts instruction in school. And in recent school years, only 26 percent of secondary students in California had access to all four arts disciplines – music, theater, visual and dance – as required by state law

Now, Los Angeles County wants to paint a more detailed picture for its 80 school districts.

The county’s arts education arm announced today a research project to survey schools about arts classes at all grade levels, as well as partnerships with teaching artists and instances where the arts are integrated into other subjects.

“If we really believe that all students should have access to that arts as a core part of their education,” said Denise Grande, head of the county’s arts education initiative Arts for All, “if we really want to get there, then we need to know where we are now.”

Arts for All, a partnership between the L.A. County Arts Commission and Office of Education, was established in 2002.

“As part of our 15th anniversary, we’re very interested in knowing, so where are we as a county?” said Grande. “We have some measures that we’ve tracked historically, we realize that we want more information than that.”

School districts will be invited to complete the Arts Ed Profile surveys between March and April 28.

Each school principal will receive a questionnaire cataloguing things including the art forms taught at the school, the frequency of classes and the number of credentialed teachers. The county will release a report of the findings in the fall.

The goal is to give school districts the hard facts to inform planning for arts instruction and spur conversations among school leaders.

“We knew where our deficits were, but we didn’t know how bad it was until we actually did stop and take a moment to access our visual and performing arts program,” said Veronica Lizardi, director of instructional support programs for the Downey Unified School District, which surveyed its schools during a pilot phase of the county’s project last year.

“It shouldn’t be like a lottery for kids,” said Lizardi.

For Downey Unified, Lizardi says there were a few glaring holes in the district of nearly 23,000 students – an uneven exposure to the arts at the elementary level, a complete void of dance programs and a deficit of arts instruction at its continuation high school.

Arts for All regularly provides coaches to districts to help them formulate a strategic plan and vision to build up arts programming. Equipped with their data, Downey recently began that process.

“We get English Language Arts data, math data, science data, we get graduation rates and all of that,” Lizardi said. “But we also need to look at things like the visual and performing arts because we want them college and career ready and that includes that missing link that we haven’t addressed.”