Improving Arts Education Partnerships

Study Approach

Research Brief

Unlike recent research that has focused on successful joint ventures, RAND researchers selected a sample of schools and arts organizations to portray how arts partnerships actually function in a large urban school district. The researchers interviewed (1) principals and teachers from a stratified random sample of 11 elementary schools participating in an LAUSD arts education program, (2) arts advisors from ten of eleven local districts who are working to help implement the plan, and (3) directors of 34 local arts organizations providing arts education programming to schools. Participants were asked about their arts partnership goals and interactions and the challenges to and facilitators of the partnerships.


Partnership Goals. Schools and arts organizations shared a common goal of developing students, although both tended to express this goal in terms of exposing students to the arts rather than developing their knowledge of or skills in the arts. Schools and arts organizations also had some notably different goals for their partnerships. Schools emphasized providing professional development for teachers, a goal rarely mentioned by arts organizations. Promoting public awareness and appreciation of the arts was the goal most often mentioned by arts organizations; promoting their organizations was another frequently mentioned goal.

Partnership Interactions. Partnerships were usually simple transactions rather than joint ventures. The arts organizations developed programs without input from schools and offered them for a fee or sometimes for free. Schools selected from such programs, often using nothing more than promotional brochures. Communication between school staff and arts organizations tended to occur only after program selection and primarily to resolve logistical issues such as scheduling or transportation. Neither the arts organizations nor the schools conducted a needs assessment to inform program development, and programs were rarely linked or integrated with school curriculum. Although district arts advisors can be liaisons between arts organizations and schools, arts organizations rarely consulted them and they did not advise schools on program selections.

Challenges and Facilitators of Partnerships. Both schools and arts organizations indicated that insufficient funding and limited time for instruction and communication between teachers and organizations hindered even simple partnerships. Both cited challenges reflecting a lack of information and understanding about the others’ organizational needs and limitations. Grade-appropriate arts programs integrated with the school curriculum were the facilitator most commonly cited by schools. Arts organization directors did not cite this as a facilitator and indicated they rarely offer programs linked to school curriculum. Rather, they listed personal relationships with school staff and teacher commitment and enthusiasm as critical facilitators. School staff did not seem to be as interested in building relationships as they were in accessing individuals and information that would help them select and schedule programs.


Given the pervasiveness of simple-transaction relationships, and the difficulties of developing more-complex interactions, schools and arts organizations should work to improve the educational value of simple transactions, even though more-sophisticated partnerships may have greater potential for educational impact.

  • Establish partnerships that address the goals of both schools and arts organizations. Although the needs of students and schools have been emphasized as being central to the goals of arts education, the needs of arts organizations are of equal importance to a partnership’s growth and sustainability. The potential of arts education partnerships to establish the arts as a core subject will not be realized unless schools and organizations understand how their goals interconnect.

  • Focus on teachers. Given their limited resources, schools and arts organizations should focus available resources on developing teachers. Teacher support is critical to the success of arts partnerships. Investing in teachers can also help disseminate program benefits widely to students, other teachers, members of the community, and potentially to other schools when teachers change jobs.

  • Use program selection to improve available programming. As the consumers in a simple-transaction partnership, schools can shape available programming to better meet their needs through their choice of programs.

  • Provide comprehensive and user-friendly information. Arts organizations require comprehensive information about schools’ needs, organizational structures and goals, curricula, and available funding in order to design educational programs. Schools require accessible and relevant information on arts organizations to select programs providing the best fit with school needs.

  • Enhance the “brokering” role for local district arts advisors. Both schools and arts organizations tend to be highly diverse and decentralized. The local district arts advisors have the potential to provide much-needed guidance to schools that are looking for ways to evaluate arts programs and to arts organizations that are working to develop programming that addresses schools’ needs.

Policy Implications

The most significant policy implication of this study is that schools must assume responsibility for creating a coherent, standards-based arts curriculum and become better-informed consumers of arts programs. Even within the context of a well-designed and ambitious program, development of complex partnerships may be impractical and inefficient. Finding ways to make simple-transaction partnerships work more effectively may ultimately enable many schools and arts organizations struggling with limited resources to make a lasting impact on school reform.

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This research brief describes work done for RAND Education documented in Arts Education Partnerships: Lessons Learned from One School District’s Experience by Melissa K. Rowe, Laura Werber Castaneda, Tessa Kaganoff, and Abby Robyn, MG-222-EDU, 2004, 114 pages, ISBN: 0-8330-3650-5. (Full Document). Copies of this research brief and the complete report on which it is based are available by clicking above or through RAND Distribution Services (phone: 1-310-451-7002; toll free in the U.S.: 1-877-584-8642).

Copyright © 2004 RAND Corporation

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RB-9058-EDU (2004)