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Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, 1995
NCES: 95082
October 1995

Arts Education in Public Elementary Schools

The Elementary Arts Education Survey was designed to take into account several aspects of elementary school arts education programs. First, when arts instruction is included it is generally part of the regular curriculum and is provided either by arts specialists or by classroom teacher. Second, all students in an elementary school are typically provided instruction in the same curriculum. Finally, arts education programs in elementary schools primarily focus on instruction in music and visual arts.

In order to capture how elementary schools provide the major portion of arts instruction to students, respondents were asked a series of questions concerning both music and visual arts. Since there are different formats for teaching the arts, the first question asked whether the subject is taught in a separate class by an arts specialist, by the classroom teachers, or by both. To determine how much of the students" time schools are committing to instruction in music and visual arts, respondents were asked to estimate the average number of minutes of class time per week devoted to separate instruction in each subject. As a measure of the extent to which students have access to specialized expertise in each subject questions about the number of full- and part-time music and visual arts specialists on the school's staff were included. Respondents also were asked whether the school provides specially equipped spaces for teaching music and visual arts, since providing appropriate materials and facilities is another indication of a school's commitment to its arts program. Finally, to assess the extent to which the arts are being integrated into the non-arts Curriculum in schools, respondents were asked how the music and visual arts specialists integrate other academic subjects into their arts instruction and whether the specialists consult with regular classroom teachers to facilitate incorporating the arts into their instruction.

The elementary survey also included three separate questions that allowed schools to describe in more general terms the educational programs in dance, drama/theatre, and creative writing. The primary focus of these questions was to determine whether these subjects are treated as separate arts subjects or are provided within the instructional programs of other subject areas, such as physical education or language arts.

How are Music and Visual Arts Being Taught in Public Elementary Schools?

Music is almost universally included in the educational programs of public elementary schools in the United States. Visual arts also is offered in the majority of the Nation's public elementary schools, but to a lesser extent than music (Figure 1). More than half of elementary schools that offer music include general, instrumental, and vocal music in their instructional programs (Figure 2); few offer only one of these three types of music instruction. One might expect that in this time of reduced budgets many schools would limit music instruction to general music, but only 10 percent of elementary schools indicated that this was the case.


Elementary schools utilize both certified arts specialists and classroom teachers to provide instruction in music and visual arts. For music, about two-thirds of schools reported that the subject is taught by specialists only, while another 22 percent indicated that both specialists and classroom teachers provide the instruction. Only 8 percent of elementary schools leave music instruction totally up to the classroom teachers (Figure 3).

A higher percentage (28 percent) of elementary schools rely solely on classroom teachers to provide visual arts instruction. This is particularly true for schools in the West, where 53 percent of schools reported that visual arts instruction is provided by the classroom teachers only (Figure 4). Conversely, in the Northeast, only 7 percent of schools do not include visual arts specialists on their teaching staff.

Arts specialists can be part of the staff at elementary schools either as Ml-time teachers or as part-time, itinerant instructors. Specialists who are at the school full time can provide both students and teachers with more access to instruction and expertise than those who are there on apart-time basis. Therefore, the presence of at least one full-time specialist can be used as a measure of "access to expertise." While more than one part-time specialist can provide the same number of hours on site, they may not be as integrated into the school's staff and its culture as a full-time staff member.

About half of elementary schools have at least one full-time music specialist on staff (Figure 5). Fewer schools have full-time visual arts specialists on staff. Moreover, the majority of schools have only one arts specialist available, whether or not the instructor is full time or part time (Table 1). This indicates that in schools where the specialists are part time, students do not have as much access to expertise as those with full-time specialists on site.

Time Devoted to Instruction

The amount of time students spend in academic learning in a particular subject is indicative of the level of achievement schools expect of students. In this survey, the amount of time students receive instruction in music and visual arts was examined in terms of the mean number of minutes per week devoted to separate instruction in each subject (Table 2). In general, during fall 1994 students received an average of 75 minutes of separate instruction in music and 78 minutes in visual arts. Schools where music instruction was provided only by specialists offered more instruction time than those where it was provided only by the classroom teachers. This was not the case for visual arts instruction, where the difference between 77 and 65 minutes was not statistically significant. However, in those schools where both specialists and classroom teachers provided instruction, students received even more time for both music and visual arts. It appears, therefore, that when classroom teachers are teaching the arts in schools where specialists are also providing instruction, they are increasing the total amount of time students spend in arts instruction.

Specially Equipped Spaces for Music and Visual Arts Instruction

Arts specialists in some schools have their own classrooms in which they have access to supplies and materials that can facilitate their teaching. In other schools, the arts specialists move from classroom to classroom, carrying their supplies with them on an "art cart" or the classroom teachers themselves may provide the instruction to students in their regular classrooms. Nearly three-quarter of public elementary schools reported that they provided a separate, specially equipped space for music instruction in 1994, and about half provided such a space for visual arts (Table 3). Schools in the West were the least likely to provide space for teaching visual arts (36 percent), which reflects the earlier reported finding that schools in this region of the country rely more heavily on classroom teachers to teach visual arts.

Integration of Music and Visual Arts

Interdisciplinary instruction in academic subject areas is becoming more common in elementary grades, and this includes instruction in the arts. Both classroom teacher and arts specialists can promote the integration of the arts into instruction in other academic subjects. Results of this summary indicated that neither music nor visual arts specialists are teaching the arts in isolation from other subjects. Close to 90 percent of public elementary schools with visual arts specialists on staff reported that the specialists integrate other subjects into their teaching of visual arts (Table 4). Almost the same percentage reported that these specialists also consult with classroom teachers so that the teachers can integrate the arts into their teaching of non-arts subjects. About three-quarters of elementary schools with music specialists on staff reported that the specialists also include these kinds of integration and consultation in their teaching activities. However, less than half of all schools with music or visual arts specialists on staff reported that they collaborate or team teach with other arts specialists.

How Do Elementary Schools Include Other Arts Subjects in Their Curricula?

Instruction in the arts can enhance learning in other academic subjects through interdisciplinary instruction, but schools can also subsume the arts within programs in other instructional areas. For example, dance instruction can be part of the physical education program, and creative writing and drama/theatre can be taught within the language arts curriculum. While this does not necessarily y lead to an inadequate educational program, it can leave instruction in the arts subjects up to non-arts teacher. The result is that the arts do not get emphasized. Findings from this survey, reported below, supported this argument.


Dance instruction does not receive the kind of commitment from schools that music and visual arts do. Only 43 percent of all public elementary schools offer any instruction in dance (Figure 6). Furthermore, very few schools offer dance as a separate subject or enlist certified dance teachers to provide the instruction. Only 4 percent of schools offer it as a separate subject taught by a dance specialist. Instead, dance instruction is generally offered by physical education teacher, and it is taught by a dance specialist within the physical education program in only 3 percent of all elementary schools.

Drama and Theatre

Very few elementary schools (8 percent) offer drama as a separate subject taught by a drama/theatre specialist (Figure 7). However, most schools (80 percent) do include drama/theatre in their curricula in some way. In mom than half of these schools drama is included by classroom teachers using dramatic activities, such as enacting stories or plays, to teach other subjects. Another 16 percent of schools that reported instruction in drama/theatre indicated that it is incorporated into the language arts curriculum.

Creative Writing

Nearly all elementary schools (92 percent) provide creative writing instruction as part of the language arts curriculum, as opposed to offering separate programs in creative writing (Figure 8). Very few schools reported that a creative writing specialist works directly with students and consults with teachers on a regular basis, or that an outside specialist or writer comes to the school on an invitational basis. Another small percentage of schools either have a creative writing specialist on staff who consults with teachers or receive creative writing materials and suggestions for classroom activities from someone at the district level.