A new Rand Education study called "Revitalizing Arts Education Through Community-Wide Coordination" offers some concrete pathways for public school districts to maintain arts classes in these days of financial drought.
Released in June 2008, the study advises school districts to collaborate with a variety of community arts and cultural organizations as a means of pursuing fundraising for arts education in their city, county, or region.
The study was commissioned by the Wallace Foundation and conducted by researchers at Rand Education, a division of the Rand Corporation, headquartered in Santa Monica, California.
"We believe that every child -- and our broader society -- benefits from high-quality arts learning and that arts education deserves a secure place in our communities," notes Edward Pauly, director of research and evaluation at the Wallace Foundation. "Arts learning can enhance a child's ability to 'learn how to learn'; it can develop skills of persistence and teamwork; it can enhance the school experience for students, sustaining their interest and enthusiasm for learning; and it can nurture empathy and foster imagination through experiences that the arts uniquely provide."
The authors studied collaborative arts-education efforts in six urban communities -- Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, and northern California's Alameda County -- reporting that each has experienced varying degrees of progress in boosting funding and expanding arts learning for children in and outside of public schools.
Even in the best of times, funding for arts education can fall short, according to Catherine Augustine, a researcher based in Rand's Pittsburgh office and one of the study's three authors. But as many districts face severe budget cuts in 2009, she says, now, more than ever, schools "can't expect new money for the arts. Districts are likely to continue to struggle."
Budgetary woes are not the only problem arts supporters face. Schools, Augustine says, are "directly affected by mandates from their districts and states." Often, she adds, those mandates "require them to focus on English, language arts, and math, and in some states science." Although Augustine is supportive of all fields of study, she points out that this emphasis means that people trying to increase the time schools devote to arts education "face an uphill battle."
Amy Zuckerman is a freelance writer in Massachusetts.