Arts Education Access in Underserved Communities
In a previous article on art teachers in quarantine, author Benjamin Krudwig focused on the inequity of arts education in schools, with real teachers noting that schools with less money and in poorer areas received fewer resources. With arts being essential to education, a push towards more equity in arts education is imperative. This article will focus mostly on Los Angeles County, however much of the takeaways here can be applied to districts across the United States.
Before pinpointing the specific issues, it’s important to get a sense of the framework of the problem. Arts education is vital to the growth and development of students. For one, art allows children to express themselves non-verbally, and gives them a safe outlet to engage with their complex emotions. The arts can also be a great method to introduce students to diverse backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles. While there is no empirical evidence, some students find that art classes provide a safe space for conversations of exploration and identity.. Arts education also has a positive impact on other subjects. A study done by Brookings in Houston showed that schools that received extra funding for the arts experienced an overall reduction in disciplinary actions, an increase in writing scores, and an increase in compassion for others.
Beyond school, the arts can play a huge role in employment. In Los Angeles,a center of arts and culture, jobs in the creative fields are plentiful. In a survey of over 100k jobs in 79 different creative fields, half of them didn’t require a Bachelor’s degree, but prioritized creative and artistic backgrounds. Having access to an arts education could be vital in seeking out these jobs. Unemployed students coming out of high school with access to higher quality/quantity of arts education would have a leg up for these opportunities.
Overall, arts education in schools has seen a decrease in funding and attention throughout the United States. This trend is already alarming, especially after studies have continuously proven benefits of arts education. However, not all schools have been affected the same. In a country-wide study on arts education in schools that have been pinpointed by the No Child Left Behind Act as “needing work”, schools with a larger percentage of non-white students, low-income, and English learners saw a significantly larger decrease in the time spent on arts education. Furthermore, in a study of Los Angeles Elementary and Secondary schools, these same schools tend to receive lower quality arts education than whiter schools.
Schools in more impoverished communities show the highest disparity of arts education inequity, the big takeaway being that they have fewer options for quality resources. These Title I schools also are less likely to provide quality arts academic resources for further study, i.e. college and career prep, and artistic rigor standards. For a visual reference, this tool shows the breakdown of arts programming between 2015-2017 in various school districts in LA county. When looking at the district that houses Santa Monica and Malibu, which are historically rich and demographically white, most schools offer many different types of arts programming. Conversely, schools in Compton and Inglewood, both with a large number of minority and first-generation low income students, are not as privileged and have fewer options for arts education.
While these schools have a higher rate of disciplinary issues, lower scores in writing among other subjects, and less college readiness, it is never the fault of the students, and instead evidence of a systematically imbalanced and corrupted education system in America. With these same schools experiencing racially disproportionate disciplinary actions, it’s difficult to say that arts education would erase these issues completely. It would, however, provide a new avenue of student engagement and potential community building.
In Los Angeles County, these issues have been noted over decades with seemingly little action. After years of pressure and countywide studies, the Los Angeles Board of Directors passed a motion to ensure schools across all of LA County access to quality arts education in 2018. This motion became what is called the “Declaration of Rights of All Students to Equity in Arts Learning,” proclaiming them “applicable and essential for all young people within and across Los Angeles County.” LA County was the first county in California to pass such a sweeping and ambitious motion.
2020 was a benchmark year for this program, and the board has pushed forward a new blueprint for equity in arts education. This blueprint highlights some actionable measures to ensure access to arts and culture to all residents of LA County, no matter their background. They highlighted 3 main goals, and a handful of strategies to achieve them. While these strategies are helpful in some regard, a few of them require further drilling down. Many of them mention increasing resources (jobs, materials, programs, etc) in these underserved areas, but don’t mention specifically where the funding would come from for these strategies. In this document, the board acknowledges that the first blueprint, established in 2002, didn’t do much to assist in increasing equity among marginalized communities. However, they say that after nearly two decades of data, they are better equipped to tackle issues of inequality moving forward.
While it can be said that money doesn’t fix everything, this case would certainly benefit from increased and adequate funding. This sentiment is shared by the underwriters of the Advancement Grant Program, that offers up to $25,000 in grant funds to districts in LA County. For the upcoming 2020-2021 cycle, over $800,000 were offered in grants to 40 districts. In 2019, these funds were used by schools to purchase new instruments, help teachers with professional development, and to hire more full time art instructors in schools.
Funding and anti-racist policy making are essential in breaking down the inequity of arts education. By investing more in the arts, it’s possible to create a better and more equitable world. There are many resources out there for the funding of the arts, a short list of a few reputable sources is below.