L.A. Schools' Arts Education Could Gain from More Coordination with Arts Groups

For Release

September 15, 2004

Arts education programs in Los Angeles public schools could become more effective if schools and local arts organizations work together to create a coherent, standards-based arts curriculum, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.

The traditional approach taken by schools and arts organizations exposes children to art at an early age. However, schools and arts organizations need to develop ways to move beyond simple exposure to fully integrate arts education into the school curriculum, researchers from RAND Education concluded.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) already has started to pursue initiatives, such as the Arts Community Partnerships Network, that are consistent with recommendations of the RAND report, titled “Arts Education and Partnerships: Lessons Learned from One School District’s Experience.”

Although there is broad support for providing comprehensive arts education in public schools, most schools have dedicated fewer resources and instructional time to arts education, relying instead on programs provided by local arts organizations. Research shows that arts education is linked to many areas of child development and increased participation in the arts in adulthood.

“Providing all students with an education in the arts is a critical contribution to the public’s social and economic well-being and builds a foundation for future public support of the arts,” said Melissa Rowe, lead author of the RAND report. “Without increased teacher training, investment of school resources, and the strategic leveraging of arts organizations’ expertise and programs, it is doubtful that arts education will prevail as a core component of the U.S. public school system.”

RAND evaluated the early stages of a 10-year arts education program in the LAUSD designed to provide substantive instruction in four major disciplines: dance, music, theater and the visual arts. The study examined the partnerships between local arts organizations and elementary schools.

Researchers found that current arts education programs in Los Angeles are generally purchased from local arts organizations by individual schools and are not integrated with the schools’ curriculum. Most programs are designed to simply provide students with exposure to the arts, rather than being tailored to an individual school’s needs.

The California Arts Council funded the RAND study. After LAUSD approved what may be the most ambitious arts education program in the nation, the California Arts Council provided funding to local arts organizations to build partnerships with schools, and to develop and evaluate arts instruction.

There are more than 400 arts organizations in the Los Angeles area that offer programming aimed at students. The goal of both LAUSD and the California Arts Council is to foster joint ventures between arts organizations and schools.

The RAND team evaluated arts programs at 11 schools and found that partnerships with arts organizations were limited to schools purchasing programs “off the shelf” without an assessment of either the school’s needs or any kind of adaptation by the arts organization to the specific school. Schools were not well-informed consumers and rarely conducted a careful evaluation of program options prior to selecting a program, the RAND study found.

Ideally, researchers say, individual schools and arts organizations should work together to define the needs of students. Schools should incorporate arts education into the curriculum, while arts organizations should provide educational materials and more accessible teacher training.

The RAND study identified shortcomings in the way current partnerships are performing and found that while both schools and arts organizations share the common goal of educating students, they have many other reasons for entering into partnerships.

Schools are as interested in providing arts development programs for their teachers as they are in providing arts education for their students. Arts organizations are primarily interested in promoting public awareness and appreciation of the arts.

Researchers interviewed principals, teachers, school arts advisors and directors of 34 local arts organizations and developed a set of recommendations to help schools and arts organizations develop stronger partnerships. The recommendations include:

  • Establishing partnerships that address the goals of both schools and arts organizations. Successful partnerships should take into account how interconnected the goals of schools and arts organizations are to each other. Although the needs of students and teachers are central, the growth and sustainability of arts organizations are equally important in the effort to implement arts education in schools.
  • Focusing on teachers. Given the limited resources of schools and arts organizations, both should focus available resources on developing teachers. Teacher support and investment is critical to the implementation and sustainability of arts education in schools. Teachers are central to educating students in the arts and building support among school administrators, other teachers, and the broader community.
  • Making schools informed consumers. As consumers, schools can shape available programming to better meet the needs of students and teachers.
  • Providing comprehensive and user-friendly information. Both schools and arts organizations need relevant information about each other. Schools need detailed information about programming in order to select appropriately; arts organizations need information about schools in order to develop programming that meets schools’ individual needs.
  • Involving school district arts administrators as brokers for program selection. Both schools and arts organizations tend to be highly decentralized. School district arts administrators are essential liaisons between schools and arts organizations and can be instrumental in helping schools to evaluate and select programs, as well as working with arts organizations to address schools’ needs.

The research was performed within RAND Education, which conducts research and analysis on topics including school reform, educational assessment and accountability, trends among teachers, and teacher training.

Other authors of the RAND study are Laura Werber Castaneda, Tessa Kaganoff and Abby Robyn. The study is available electronically on RAND’s website at www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG222.

About RAND

RAND is a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous.