By James Palmarini
In January 2021, the Arts ARE Education campaign collaborated with the Arts Education Partnership on a survey of subscribers to gauge the effects of the pandemic on arts education during the 2020-2021 school year. This past November, the campaign conducted another survey, re-asking the same questions, using the first survey as a baseline to determine what had changed as the pandemic continued to impact education in the 2021-22 school year.
The second survey also included a new question about how federal Elementary & Secondary Education Relief (ESSER) funds from the American Rescue Plan—if received—were used to support arts education in the respondent’s district or school. Of the 106 people who completed the new survey, the great majority were educators (92%), with community members, parents, students, and others making up the balance of respondents.
As in the ARE Survey I, respondents rated the extent to which their schools or districts were engaging in a list of actions at the time of the survey as compared to before the pandemic. These actions aligned to the talking points in the Arts ARE Education campaign:
Providing materials, equipment and resources needed to teach arts curricula.
Scheduling arts educators to teach in the arts discipline(s) for which they are trained.
Funding arts education programs.
Providing or enabling appropriate professional development for arts educators at levels comparable to other subjects.
Offering a similar number and a range of arts classes.
Holding arts classes in spaces built and/or furnished for arts learning.
Overall, Survey II results did not vary greatly from Survey I in most cases, indicating that, while things have not improved much for arts education programs, teachers, and students, neither did they decline appreciably during the first part of the 2021-22 school year. However, the data on how the ESSER funds have been spent by those districts allocating funds to arts education does reveal some trends. First, comparing the results from Survey I and II, here’s what the data revealed on the ARE actionable points addressed:
On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = much less, 3=about the same, 5=much better), the Survey II data shows that school districts are provided moderate support for arts education programs in 2021, similar to what Survey I demonstrated regarding 2020, but the trends that began at the outset of the pandemic in 2020 continue to persist, with little or no improvement to funding, arts classes availability, and range, and maintaining arts educators to teach in their trained discipline. There are slight downward trends in scheduling art classes, materials and resources, and facilities. Significantly, at a time when arts educators need specialized professional development in the virtual or hybrid teaching environment, opportunities for professional development continue to decline, rather than improve.
Survey II also asked two yes/no questions.
Despite the delivery of ESSER funds to states and their districts, more than half of respondents (59%) said, as they did on the first survey, that their schools or districts had not included the arts with other academic content areas when talking about learning loss or learning acceleration. Somewhat encouraging is the 10% increase regarding the question about federal K-12 education relief funding being used to support arts education in 2021 (29% on Survey II; 19% on Survey I). This upward trend may be due to the funds becoming available and a general awareness about the eligibility of arts education programs for these dollars through advocates’ outreach and education. The fact that the great majority of Survey II respondents were teachers may also be a factor in the improved number (Survey I respondents were more varied, with only 61% identifying as teachers).
Finally, respondents who answered positively about their school or district receiving ESSER funding were asked about how the money was used to support arts education across seven categories:
Building air quality
In the current pandemic environment, virtual education continues to be a strategy for many schools, despite the widespread return to in-person learning in 2021. So, it is not surprising that the survey indicated that nearly 40% of all K-12 federal funds for arts education were allocated to technology needs—computers, software, access to specialized learning platforms and more. Also notable on this survey is that many districts applied at least some of their arts education ESSER funds to summer or afterschool programs (37%); its possible that this number was shaped by those programs and districts who were early applicants for this third round of the funds when they became available in spring 2020, or they were able to secure those dollars through the earlier federal funding of ESSER I or II.
The percentages of funding dedicated to sanitation (32%), facilities (20%), and building air quality (27%) suggest an ongoing commitment to creating safe spaces for arts educators and students that is consistent across all of education as schools returned to in-person for the 2022 school year. However, the modest amount of ESSER dollars addressing learning loss in the arts (27%) is troubling given that, like all subject areas, there have been profound gaps in opportunities for students to engage in critical, sequential content of their arts discipline—be it dance, media arts, music, theatre, or visual arts—that is necessary to learning and growth in their craft and well-rounded education. Additionally, the 24% of funding to support arts education staffing and professional development confirms the earlier number of a modest commitment to addressing this critical need at a time when so many educators across all of education are reporting burn out and schools are reporting staff shortages and a lack of qualified substitutes.
As the Arts ARE Education campaign moves forward, we will periodically conduct additional surveys of our members, seeking to better understand the trends in arts education that will help us advocate in support of equitable access to arts education for all students, taught be skilled and certified educators, working in safe spaces where the best possible learning experiences can occur.
Jim Palmarini directs the Arts ARE Education campaign.