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Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 1999-2000
NCES: 2002131
May 2002


During the last decade, arts instruction has received increasing attention as an important aspect of education. The Improving America's Schools Act of 1994 (U.S. Public Law 103-382), and the release of the voluntary National Standards for Arts Education (Consortium of National Arts Education Association 1994), demonstrated this increase in attention. By 1998, there were no national data sources that specifically addressed the condition of arts education in the nation's public schools. To fill this data gap, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), and the Office of Reform Assistance and Dissemination (ORAD) of OERI requested that surveys be conducted under the Fast Response Survey System (FRSS) of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education.

The purpose of this report is to provide a national profile of the status of arts education in the nation's regular 2 public schools during the 1999- 2000 school year. Specifically, this report presents information on the characteristics of public elementary and secondary school arts education programs, including data on the availability of instruction in the arts, staffing, funding, supplemental programs and activities, and administrative support of arts education. This report is based on data collected from elementary and secondary school principals and from elementary school arts specialists and classroom teachers during the 1999-2000 school year.

The study was a follow up to a survey conducted in 1994 by NCES that was also requested by the National Endowment for the Arts and by the National Institute on Student Achievement, Curriculum, and Assessment of the U.S. Department of Education (Carey et al. 1995). That survey provided national data concerning public schools' approaches to arts education and covered topics such as the availability of music, visual arts, dance, and drama/theatre instruction in the nation's public elementary and secondary schools; time devoted to instruction; space for arts instruction; staffing; professional development; and school support of arts programs. Results of the study were embraced by the arts education community as the single source of national data on this topic, since at that time there were no up-to-date, national data documenting the condition of arts education in the United States.

The findings from that survey provided baseline information on the extent to which public schools were including the arts as core subjects in their curricula. To summarize, the 1994 arts education survey found that 97 percent of public elementary schools offered instruction in music, 85 percent offered instruction in visual arts, 43 percent offered instruction in dance, and 8 percent offered instruction in drama/theatre. At the secondary school level, the majority of schools offered separate instruction in music (94 percent) and visual arts (89 percent). About half of secondary schools offered separate instruction in drama/theatre (54 percent), and 13 percent of schools offered classes in dance.

The 1994 study also found that 70 percent of public elementary schools that offered music reported that the subject was taught only by certified music specialists; 22 percent indicated that both specialists and classroom teachers provided instruction; and at 8 percent of schools instruction was provided only by classroom teachers. At the secondary level, in schools that offered separate instruction in arts subjects, an average of 4.5 courses were taught in music, 5 were taught in visual arts, and 2 courses on average were provided in both dance and drama/theatre. Most public elementary and secondary schools that offered separate instruction in arts subjects had curriculum guidelines provided by their school districts. About one-third of schools at both instructional levels had district level arts coordinators or curriculum specialists on staff. Also, about one-third of public elementary and secondary schools had artists-in-residence during the past 5 years. (See Carey et al. 1995 for further findings from the 1994 study.)

Subsequent to the 1994 FRSS arts education survey, publication of the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) 1997 Arts Report Card (Persky, Sandene, and Askew 1998) underscored the increased attention arts education was receiving at the national level. As stated in the NAEP Arts Report Card, "The last several years have seen a growing resolve among educators and policymakers to assure the place of a solid arts education in the nation's schools" (Persky, Sandene, and Askew 1998, 2).

The 1999-2000 arts education survey provides some indication of the extent to which arts education has established its "solid place" in the nation's elementary and secondary public schools. In addition, the current study presents a more complete picture of arts education at the elementary level than the 1994 study by providing the first national data on the educational backgrounds, professional development activities, and teaching loads of music and visual arts teachers, as well as on the curricula, instructional practices, and work environments that characterized elementary school arts education in 1999-2000.

Arts Education: Perspectives and Approaches in U.S. Public Schools

The argument for including arts education as a basic component in the core curriculum of public schools has taken one of two perspectives (Cortines 1999). The case for the arts is based on either (1) the intrinsic value of the arts, or (2) the value of the consequences of arts education. The first position asserts that arts education is important because of the intrinsic value of learning about and experiencing the arts themselves, since the arts reflect what it is to be human and are fundamental to an understanding of ourselves and others. The second position establishes the value of the consequences of arts instruction, in particular the contribution learning in the arts makes to the development of many cognitive, affective, and creative skills. More specifically, educators have made the case that students demonstrate higher levels of academic achievement in non-arts areas or other success in school through their engagement with the arts (Catterall, Chapleau, and Iwanaga 1999).

A review of the literature on the value of arts instruction, or its impact on learning or cognitive development, uncovers numerous articles and research summaries leading to the conclusion that there is no one answer to the question "Why teach the arts?" (Eisner 1997). Just as notions about why it is important to teach the arts differ, so do conceptions about what constitutes arts education. For this study, the view of arts instruction encompasses the study of visual arts, music, dance, and drama/theatre. In addition, arts instruction includes not only teaching students about the tools and processes used to produce works of art but also educating them about how the arts relate to history and cultures, and connections among arts subjects and other academic disciplines.

Another recurring, and sometimes controversial, question that characterizes current thinking on arts education is who should teach the arts? In the most traditional approach to arts education, visual arts and music are taught by specialists who have the knowledge, skills, and professional experience to teach the subjects in the most compelling and authentic fashion. With the push toward a more integrated, cross-discipline curriculum, some schools provide arts instruction as a collaboration between classroom teachers and arts specialists. In this approach, classroom teachers need to have some background or training in arts instruction, and the role of the arts specialists includes providing resources for teachers in curriculum and staff development (Wilson 1997). At the other extreme are schools where there are no arts specialists on staff, either to teach students directly or to act as resources to classroom teachers who provide the arts instruction that is offered.

Given the various configurations that schools can adopt in providing instruction in the arts, the survey instruments used in this study were designed to be inclusive of several approaches. In this way, the maximum amount of information could be collected, without any philosophical bias as to the optimum strategy for teaching students about the arts.

Study Methodology

The surveys of public elementary and secondary school arts education were conducted during fall 1999 (see appendix C for survey questionnaires). Respondents to the survey were sampled elementary and secondary school principals. At the same time, the elementary school principals were asked to provide lists of their music and visual arts specialists and regular (self-contained) classroom teachers for the sampling for a teacher survey. From each list of teachers submitted, one classroom teacher and one of each type of arts specialist were sampled, depending on whether the school had music and visual arts specialists on staff. The teacher surveys were conducted during spring 2000.

The 1994 surveys of arts education in public elementary and secondary schools provided baseline information on the extent to which public schools were including the arts as core subjects in their curricula. However, national data addressing the ways that arts instruction is delivered, and the qualifications of the teachers who provide the instruction, were still lacking. The positive response from the arts education community to the school-level data contained in the 1994 report increased the conviction on the part of the data requesters that teacher-level data were essential in order to present a more complete picture of the ways that students experience the arts in public schools. Therefore, NCES, ORAD, and the National Endowment for the Arts supported a teacher component in the 1999-2000 data collection to begin to fill this gap.

Providing the most complete picture would require surveying teachers at both the elementary and secondary school levels, but surveys of that magnitude were beyond the scope of the Fast Response Survey System. It was necessary to limit the teacher survey to either elementary or secondary school teachers. Data collection at the secondary level would be constrained by the fact that arts instruction is provided primarily through elective courses and is often taught by multiple specialists in each of the four arts subjects (Carey et al. 1995). In contrast, at the elementary level, arts instruction is usually limited to music and visual arts and is part of a standard curriculum in which all students participate. Therefore, given the resources available through the Fast Response Survey System, it was decided to focus on arts instruction in public elementary schools. Further, for the elementary teacher-level surveys, only music specialists, visual arts specialists, and classroom teachers were sampled. The number of schools employing dance and drama/theatre teachers is small, and so it was not possible to select adequate samples based on the list collection from the schools (see appendix A for details on the list collection).

The school-level results presented in this report were based on questionnaire data from 640 regular public elementary school principals and 686 regular public secondary school principals (or their designated respondents) (see appendix A, tables A-1 and A-2). 3 The elementary school teacher findings are based on data collected from 453 music specialists, 331 visual arts specialists, and 497 regular classroom teachers (see appendix A, tables A-3, A-4, and A-5).

Many of the questionnaire items on the school surveys were similar, but not identical, to the 1994 FRSS surveys. Some items were revised or replaced because the results from the 1994 surveys indicated that the items may have been misinterpreted by respondents or had not produced useful information (see appendix C for questionnaires). In addition, the arts community (who participated in the development of the questionnaires) was interested in obtaining additional detail on various questions, such as who taught the arts and what types of space were available for instruction. Finally, an effort was made to revise items to be consistent with the 1997 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Given the differences in questions in both form and content, it was decided not to compare across survey years in this report. See appendix A for a list of questions that were indeed comparable across survey years, with corresponding findings.

The teacher surveys contained questions about teachers' educational backgrounds and professional development, their teaching loads, and the extent to which they collaborate with other teachers or participate in various school committees. Some of these questionnaire items were adapted from the 1998 NCES survey on teacher quality (Lewis et al. 1999). The surveys designed for music and visual arts specialists each contained two unique sets of questions that address the ways that schools support arts programs, such as the facilities and resources available to teachers, and the goals and objectives of student learning in either music or visual arts.

The school characteristics used as analysis variables for reporting data from the school surveys were school enrollment size, locale (central city, urban fringe, town, rural), region, percent minority enrollment, and percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch (which indicates the concentration of poverty in the school). These variables are defined in appendix A. Some of the school characteristics used for independent analyses may be related to each other. For example, poverty concentration and minority enrollment are related, as schools with a high minority enrollment also tend to have a high concentration of poverty. Because of the relatively small samples used in this study, it is difficult to separate the independent effects of these variables. The existence of such effects, however, should be considered in the interpretation of the data presented in this report.

The data from the teacher surveys are generally presented for the overall samples of teachers, and are not broken down by specific school or teacher characteristics. The survey samples of arts specialists and classroom teachers were relatively small (453 music specialists, 331 visual arts specialists, and 497 regular classroom teachers). Thus, small cell sizes and resulting high standard errors might not in many cases support comparisons across subgroups of selected independent variables.

The responses to the school questionnaires were weighted to produce national estimates that represent all regular public elementary and secondary schools in the United States; those for the teacher surveys were weighted to produce national estimates that represent all regular elementary school classroom teachers, music specialists, and visual arts specialists. All comparative statements in this report have been tested for statistical significance using t-tests adjusted for multiple comparisons using the Bonferroni adjustment and are significant at the 0.05 level; however, not all significant comparisons are cited in the report. Appendix A provides a more detailed discussion of the survey samples and methodology.

Organization of This Report

The chapters that follow present survey results describing the status of arts education in America's public schools during the 1999-2000 school year. Specifically, chapter 2 presents information on the characteristics of public elementary school arts education programs. Chapter 3 presents similar findings for public secondary school arts education programs. Chapter 4 reports on the results of the teacher surveys, comparing findings from arts specialists and classroom teachers. The final chapter summarizes the findings of this study and draws some overall conclusions. A description of the study methodology (appendix A) and tables of standard errors for all data presented in this report (appendix B) are included as technical appendices. The questionnaires for this study and the arts survey conducted in 1994 are included in appendix C.

2 Regular school is defined as a public elementary/secondary school that does not focus primarily on vocational, special, or alternative education.

3 Only regular public schools in the 50 states and the District of Columbia were included in the sample (see appendix A for additional details).