By Jim Palmarini, Arts ARE Education
In November of 2022, the Arts ARE Education campaign conducted its third survey of advocate-subscribers to gauge the ongoing effects of the pandemic on arts education. ARE was particularly interested in gaining a better understanding of how the 2021-22 school year was going, as perceived by the varied respondents.
The new survey asked the same questions included in the earlier iterations and one new question about student and teacher wellness. The survey III respondent rate was significantly higher (209) than the 2020 and 2021 surveys, with a lower percentage of educator respondents (65%) then in (92%), but nearly the same as 2020 (61%).
Before addressing the baseline questions data, it’s worth looking first at the response to the new ARE survey question: “Has your district created or coordinated any new arts-based initiatives in support of teacher and student wellness?”
The great majority of respondents (69%) answered “no”; 16% said “yes”; and 15% were not sure. At the outset of the 2022-23 school year, many districts were just beginning to fully return to in-school learning, so it may be premature to expect that wellness programs that are mindful of the social and emotional needs of traumatized students and educators to be in place.
Still, the role of the arts in helping students become more resilient and ready to re-engage with the world—both in and out of school—is well established (see https://selarts.org/ for a complete overview of the intersection of SEL and arts learning) and much of this data is applicable to educators as well. The substantial number of 15% who are “unsure” whether there is an arts-based wellness opportunities in their districts may change in the coming months as schools enter into the second half of the school year and more awareness about available programs is shared.
In the baseline survey III questions, respondents rated the extent to which their schools or districts were engaging in a list of actions during the first part of the 2022-23 school year. These actions aligned to the standing talking points in the Arts ARE Education campaign:
Providing sufficient staff to ensure learning in the arts
Funding arts education programs
Offering a similar number and a range of arts classes
Scheduling arts classes in ways that allow most students to enroll
Scheduling arts educators to teach in the arts discipline(s) for which they are trained
Providing materials, equipment, and resources needed to teach the arts curricula
Providing or enabling appropriate professional development for arts educators at levels comparable to other subject area teachers
Holding arts classes in spaces built and/or furnished for arts learning
The survey results suggested modest gains across all areas, based on the 2020 and 21 survey data, with the biggest change in “Scheduling arts educators to teach in the arts discipline for they are trained”, improving on a 1-5 scale by 7% (from 3.0 to 3.7). There was also a 4% improvement in “Providing materials, equipment, and resources needed to teach the arts curricula” (2.8 to 3.2) and an encouraging gain of 5% for “Holding arts classes in spaces built and/or furnished for arts learning.” While the data does not indicate dramatic changes in the availability of funding, staff, or classes, there does seem to be stability in these areas, though also reason for concern, with declines in federal funding support for the arts and as part of efforts to address learning loss.
Twenty-five percent of respondents answered “yes” as to whether their school or district is using ESSER funds to support arts education, a 4% decrease from 2021, despite grassroots efforts by arts advocates to educate administrators and educators about the availability of these dollars for arts education.
The inclusion of the arts as part of the ongoing effort to address the learning loss students suffered during the pandemic dropped equally from 2021 (33% answering “yes” in 2021, and 27% answering “yes” in 2022). In a time that it is well-established that the arts are a powerful strategy for helping students re-enter in-school learning and rebuilding relationships frayed by the pandemic, it would seem logical for them to play a central role in school strategies designed to address learning loss across all subject areas. In both the ESSER and learning loss data, the significantly lower number of survey educator respondents may be an indication that the numbers don’t fully represent arts ESSER funding or arts implementation in school-wide learning loss. Still, hopefully the numbers indicated here will improve in the future.
Respondents who did answer 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
This year’s data on how ESSER funds were allocated in support of the arts declined markedly across all categories, with less funds ranging from 10 to 25% less than in 2021. The more balanced use of federal dollars is perhaps not surprising, given that, after almost two years of hybrid and at-home learning, schools were not dealing so intensely with the challenges in technology (24% less than in 2021); sanitation (25% less); and building air quality (20%). However, the significant declines in funds dedicated to learning loss (12% less than in 2021); after-school learning (21% less); and staffing/professional development (10% less) indicate that the arts continue to be at risk in schools and not necessarily considered a priority in a year that most districts have fully returned to classroom learning.
The dramatic decline in money spent to support after-school and summer learning is particularly telling, given the lost opportunity to use those spaces and time to address arts learning loss. It’s possible—we can hope—that the ESSER funding numbers for arts education will improve as districts finalize their budgets for 2023 and beyond, with an eye on planning that includes the exhaustion of the American Rescue Plans funds in later 2024. With the data around teacher burnout and shortages widely known and tracked, it’s important that advocates do their best to keep the arts at the table during the district budget process. Our professional arts educators are the foundation on which arts learning depends—we need to make sure they’re properly compensated and have the resources they need to give students the joy of arts learning they deserve.
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.