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For more than 30 years, arts education has been a low priority in the nation’s public schools. During fiscal crises in the 1970s and 1980s in America’s urban centers, arts teaching positions were cut. More recently, arts education in schools has dwindled as schools try to increase test scores in mathematics and reading within the time constraints of the school day. Some communities have responded with initiatives aimed at coordinating schools, cultural institutions, community-based organizations, foundations, and/or government agencies to promote access to arts learning for children in and outside of school. The objective of this study was to investigate this phenomenon in six urban U.S. communities — Alameda County (which includes Oakland and Berkeley) in Northern California, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles County, and New York City — descriptively and comparatively analyzing how these efforts started, how they evolved, what kinds of organizations became involved, what conditions fostered or impeded coordination, and what strategies were used to improve both access to and quality of arts education. The evidence gathered (through a comparative case-study analysis based on site visits, a document review, and interviews with 120 experts across the six sites) is positive in that it documents signs of progress in promoting access to arts learning experiences for children, but it is also cautionary. When seen in light of the historical factors that have impeded access to arts learning in the past, the six efforts are, generally speaking, fragile. To succeed in the long run, coordinated efforts such as these must have committed and sustained leadership, supportive policy, and sufficient resources.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    The Evolving Ecology of Arts Education

  • Chapter Three

    Coordination Efforts Within Six Communities

  • Chapter Four

    Strategies for Improving Access and Quality

  • Chapter Five

    Sparking and Sustaining Coordination Across Providers and Influencers

  • Chapter Six


The research in this report was produced within RAND Education, a unit of the RAND Corporation. The research was commissioned by The Wallace Foundation.

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