Los Angeles has developed an initiative to support public schools across the county in implementing comprehensive, sequential arts education. The initiative has:
- Helped Los Angeles school districts to develop arts education policies
- Supported those delivering arts education programmes
- Measured progress to inform future policy.
Arts for All is a regional blueprint for arts education set up by Los Angeles County. The initiative supports the implementation of high quality, comprehensive, sequential arts education from Kindergarten to 12th grade across Los Angeles County.
Los Angeles is the most populous county in the United States, with 1.6 million students in 2,200 schools across 81 school districts. The county is characterised by its diversity, within dependently administered school districts characterised by a rich ethnic mix and wide variations in factors such as urbanisation, size and wealth.
The creative industries are of primary importance in Los Angeles’ cultural policy; they generate $140 billion annually for the region’s economy and more than 1 million jobs. The arts also play a significant role in building cross-cultural understanding in a county where 224 languages are spoken. Recognising the value of arts education and the next generation of creative industry professionals, between 2006 and 2009 the state of California released $28 million in funding to Los Angeles county schools.
Arts for All was established in 2002 in response to several pressing issues identified by the Arts in Focus: Los Angeles Countywide Arts Education Survey, the first ever survey conducted about Los Angeles County arts education*. Although all respondents agreed on the importance of arts education, 37% of districts reported there was no defined sequential curriculum of arts education in any discipline, at any level, in any of their schools. Fully 58.2% of districts reported expenditure of less than 1% of the total general budget on arts education, with many schools filling the gap with contributions from non-profit arts organisations, local artists or members of the community.
Despite the obstacles faced by schools, such as lack of a universal sequential curriculum, shortage of trained personnel, inadequate time in the school day, and lack of incentives to teach arts, some arts programmes were identified as successful. Five of the most populous school districts in the county, representing 54.5% of the county’s student population, were found to have both an arts education policy and notable future plans.
Arts for All currently works with 59 of the 81 Los Angeles County school districts. Each school district is evaluated against five key indicators: a policy and plan for arts education has been adopted by the school board; the school district has a designated arts coordinator; at least 5% of a school’s budget should go to arts education; the ratio of students to arts teacher is no higher than 400:1.
To support schools, Arts for All provides schools with guidelines and practical help. This begins with helping school districts develop arts policies and detailed, budgeted arts education plans. A model policy is provided, along with training and technical assistance inpolicy design, available through dedicated coaches. Schools can also access an online information portal, professional development opportunities, a directory of arts providers and information on funding sources. To mobilise support from parents, students, industry and the wider community, Arts for All provides data on the status of arts education in school districts and provides advocacy training. Match funding from government or private sponsorship isused to align public and private funding policies with the Arts for All mission.
* This survey was commissioned in 2001 by the Los Angeles Arts Education Task Force, an all-volunteer group of Los Angeles County arts and arts education leaders.
The most recent assessment of Arts for All in 2008 measured progress in school districts across each of the five indicators. The percentage of school districts with plans and policies for implementing arts education rose by about 10%. Other factors remained stable, but schools contributing over 5% of their budget to arts education actually dropped by more than 10%.
In 2011 Arts for All designed a School Arts Survey to measure access to and quality of arts education through 16 indicators. This survey revealed that issues such as shortage of instructional time, lack of adequate space, and differing levels of arts education tended to be lower in less affluent areas. However, there was also evidence of improvements in the arts curriculum, increased arts supplies and more teaching time.
Arts for All continues to gather data to identify policy and practice trends, and provides arts education leaders with the information they need to make smart decisions that will increase the quality and availability of arts education to all students in Los Angeles County public schools.