Since I started my job 4 ½ years ago, I have been looking for a way to quantify arts education. There are an overwhelming number of models circulating:
Washington State did an invited, online, school principal survey, leveraging the partnership of their Arts Education Research Initiative to elicit responses.
Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming worked with the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) to develop a shared survey instrument, administered in collaboration with the four state offices of education and public instruction.
Communities involved in The Kennedy Center’s Any Given Child initiative have created extensive school-based survey instruments, drawing on the expertise of locally-formed partnerships to create the best instrument and guarantee response rates.
I could go on, but you get the picture.
With over 1,300 public schools in the state, the cost to hire a research firm to design and administer a survey instrument was prohibitive, and every existing survey instrument we looked at needed substantial adaptation to satisfy our stakeholders.
Luckily, two years ago, a graduate student in public policy at University of Oregon, Sarah K. Collins, mentioned to me that her thesis project involved pulling data from the Department of Education to examine access to arts education. The Oregon Arts Commission hired Sarah to produce a state-level summary report of her thesis, which we then published.
While the summary data was useful in tracking overall trends, it wasn’t applicable to most citizens, who wanted to know what the numbers meant for their local school. This demand evolved into what is now the Oregon Arts Commission’s newly launched online arts education database.
Drawing on Department of Education course codes and highly qualified teacher data, we were able to populate the database without asking schools to provide us with any additional data—it mines their federal NCLB reporting requirements, which they have to provide anyway.
While the database does not show student enrollment, contact hours, services provided by visiting artists/organizations/volunteers, or integration provided by general classroom teachers, it does show which schools offer arts instruction by a certified arts specialist and changes to those offerings over time. Users can search by school district, school building, arts discipline, zip code, and county. At the school building level, results are compared year to year.
This resource only tells one small part of the story, but it promises to be the start of broader state-wide conversations about how to gather additional data about what services are provided, where gaps exist and how to work together to fill them. We have found this measurement to be a simple and elegant answer to the immediate question of: what arts disciplines are taught and where?
We now look forward to seeking answers to all the questions that arise from here.
What questions does your state or community need to answer about arts education?
How accessible is the data you already have?
What existing measurements can you tap to begin painting the picture?