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Are State Arts Education Policies Working?

Just because a state has a law requiring arts instruction doesn't mean students are actually getting it, according to education experts at an Education Writers Association webinar today. 

Mary Plummer, an arts education reporter for Southern California Public Radio, who moderated the event, pointed to an analysis she'd done of the types of arts instruction offered at elementary schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. California has a law mandating that schools teach dance, visual arts, music, and theater to all 1st through 6th grade students.

Eighty-seven percent of elementary schools are in violation of that law, Plummer found. Just 70 of the more than 500 elementary schools in the district have all four art forms—and even those schools don't offer them to all students. 

"When you look at all those blue dots in compliance with state law and all those red dots not in compliance with state law," said James Catterall, a professor emeritus at the University of California in Los Angeles who specializes in arts education and presented at the webinar, "you have to say—so much for state law."

The other presenter, Sandra Ruppert, the director of the Arts Education Partnership, part of the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers, noted that every state has adopted elementary and secondary standards for the arts except for one: Iowa. "But a number of advocates are working hard with the state legislature" there to encourage them to adopt standards, she said. Catterall added that the lack of a state mandate in Iowa doesn't mean there aren't great things happening in arts education across the state. 

In discussing state policies that do seem to be effective, Ruppert mentioned North Carolina. Elementary teacher preparation programs there are required to address the arts. "Rather than address it at the back end through professional development, a state like North Carolina is addressing it at the front end," said Ruppert. 

When asked whether there have been any successful lawsuits regarding arts education, both Catterall and Ruppert said they were not aware of any. 

For more on individual state policies, see this Arts Education Partnership report, which we wrote up here

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