By Jim Palmarini, Arts ARE Education
In May of 2023, Arts ARE Education conducted its fourth survey of advocate-subscribers. Past surveys have focused exclusively on the ongoing impact of the pandemic on arts education. This survey posed most of the same baseline questions but, as an end-of-the-school-year review, asked additional queries about teacher plans for the 2023-24 school year.
The thinktank the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) projects there will be a demand for approximately 300,000 new teachers nationwide, contrasted to a supply of only about 100,000 by 2024. Other recent data on teacher shortages has indicated that at least ten states nationwide are struggling to staff schools with trained educators in a range of subject areas, including the arts.
ARE Survey IV (Spring/Summer 2023) continued to inquire about funding, scheduling, professional development, and student-teacher wellness programs. The response rate was 138, with nearly 70% of respondents being educators; the remaining 30% were made up of administrators, parents, community members, and arts service organization representatives.
Arts Educator Retention
Before addressing the baseline questions data, let's look first at the responses to the four new questions focusing on teacher retention and hiring. ARE Survey IV asked these questions, given the range of intersecting issues at play in our schools today: post-pandemic student learning loss, teacher burnout, low compensation, and challenges to curriculum and educators' effectiveness, among them. These factors and others have prompted some educators to reconsider their careers as teachers and to explore opportunities to work in different professions or at least change schools.
Our first question asked educators, "Are you moving to a new school/district in the 2023-2024 school year?" The great majority of respondents (77%) answered "No," with 3% responding "Yes" and 20% unsure. While it is reassuring that so many arts educators are staying put at their current schools, it's worth bearing in mind that the uncertainty of the economy - along with other personal concerns - may be influencing some educators' decision-making. It's also not surprising that a substantial number were hedging their plans as the 2023-2024 school year wrapped up and openings were being posted for the coming school year.
The second question also focused on teachers' plans: "Are you returning to your current position in the 2023-2024 school year?" The positive responses were not dissimilar to those of Question 1, with 70% answering "Yes." However, 17% were not sure they would be returning to their same position, and 12% responded "No;" 29% is a substantial amount of uncertainty in some districts as to who will be teaching which arts courses in the coming school year.
The third question asked, "Are you leaving the teaching profession in the 2023-2024 school year?" A solid 85% answered "No," with 3% responding "Yes" and 12% unsure.
So, despite all the challenges facing educators and education in general today, arts teachers seem to be holding their ground, though it's understood that the ARE Survey IV numbers do not necessarily fully reflect what is happening in specific geographies, or with individual populations of teachers.
Again, the concern over the economic state of the country may also be a factor influencing teachers to stay in their current job.
The fourth and final question around teacher retention addressed the hiring of new arts educators (or elimination of existing positions): "To your knowledge, is your district adding or eliminating arts positions in 2023-2024?"
The prevailing uncertainty, with 60% of surveyed educators responding "Unsure," could point to a lack of awareness of larger district plans prior to the start of the forthcoming school year. However, at the same time, it may also indicate districts' lack of transparency or communication with their current staff regarding hiring and/or cutbacks.
Unfortunately, the question in focus does not distinguish whether the 30% who answered "No" and the 20% who answered "Yes" were addressing one or the other points or both.
Baseline Question: Teacher and Student Wellness
ARE first inquired about teacher and student wellness in Fall/Winter 2022, in ARE Survey III, as schools fully re-opened after the height of the pandemic had subsided, with the question: "Has your district created or coordinated any new arts-based initiatives in support of teacher and student wellness?" In this survey, the majority of respondents (69%) answered "No," with 16% responding "Yes" and 15% unsure.
When we returned to this question in ARE Survey IV, data indicated that during the 2023-23 school year, more schools began creating programs addressing the social and emotional needs of teachers and students still recovering from the trauma of the pandemic. 28% of respondents affirmed that their district had created or coordinated arts-based initiatives in support of teacher and student wellness, with 16% responding "No" and 16% unsure.
Certainly, there is still a long way to go regarding the availability of such support in our schools nationwide. While there has been some politicization of social and emotional learning (SEL), the research around the proven value of SEL and arts learning is well documented (see ArtsEdSEL). Publicizing this rigorous data may help increase the presence of these efforts in schools during 2023-2024.
Baseline Question: Arts in the Conversation
ARE has posed this question in all four of its surveys over a three-year period: "Did decision makers in your school or district include arts in conversations about learning loss or learning acceleration to support students?" In the first three surveys, the data provided by respondents varied by just a few percentage points. The most recent survey pointed to a substantial gain of 11% from Survey III (Fall/Winter 2022), with 38% of respondents answering "Yes."
ARE Survey IV (Spring/Summer 2023) pointed to a substantial gain of 11% from Survey III, with 38% of respondents answering "Yes." The percentage answered "No" (51%) is a clear indication that the role of arts education in helping students and teachers re-integrate into in-person school in the post-pandemic era is undervalued in many school districts throughout the country.
Still, the gains achieved in the 2022-2023 school year are encouraging. Hopefully this trend will continue to build in 2023-2024, with more schools recognizing the arts as a well-rounded subject, as vital as another other academic area to the success of students in the post-pandemic era of education.
Other Baseline Questions
In the baseline ARE Survey IV (Spring/Summer 2023) questions, respondents rated the extent to which their schools or districts engaged throughout the 2023-2023 school year in a range of actionable support decisions. These actions align to the standing talking points in the Arts ARE Education campaign.
Funding arts education programs
Providing sufficient staff to ensure learning in the arts
Offering a similar number and range of arts classes (compared to previous years)
Scheduling arts classes in ways that allow most students to enroll
Scheduling arts educators to teach the arts discipline(s) in 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
Survey IV data are very similar to that of Survey III (Fall/Winter 2022), across all baseline questions, with only model gains or declines based on a Likert scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest or most negative indicator and 4 being the highest or most positive.
Overall, all areas of concern were rated, on average, as 3 (out of 5) or relatively positive. However, a deeper dive into the data does tell a more nuanced story. Regarding funding in arts education programs, 58% of respondents rated support at the level of 3-4, but 29% rated support as 1-2. While federal ESSER funds are still being distributed by states into districts (until September 2024), there is reason to be concerned that school funding deficits, particularly in underserved districts, may be exacerbated once federal support is exhausted.
For three of the areas in question - "Provided sufficient staff to ensure learning in the arts," "Offered a similar number and range of arts classes," and "Scheduled arts educators to teach in the arts discipline(s) in which they were trained" - the data are nearly parallel (and similar to ARE's 2022 survey), with 63-65% of respondents rating at the level of 3-4 and 18-25% rating 1-2. These mostly positive numbers support the ongoing stability of arts educators, as indicators in the survey's teacher retention data.
One ongoing concern is: "Scheduled arts classes to allow most students to enroll." 73% of respondents rated at the level of 3-5, with 28% at 1-2. "Provided materials, equipment, and resources needed to teach arts curricula" yielded similar numbers, with 70% of respondents rating at the level of 3-5 and 30% at 1-2.
While Survey IV (Spring/Summer 2023) results confirm that many schools have multiple opportunities for their students to engage in the arts, they also make clear that there are still substantial numbers of children with limited or no access to arts education. Likely this is due to their schools lacking funding and, by extension, the staff and resources needed to support a robust, sequential program in one or more of the arts disciplines.
In Survey IV's final two rating areas, which address professional development and arts-education appropriate spaces, the responses were consistent with those from Survey III (Fall/Winter 2022), with modest gains in the former. However, results pertaining to "Provided or enabled appropriate professional development for arts educators at levels comparable to non-arts teachers" suggest an uneven availability of ongoing training for arts educators. 45% of respondents rated such opportunities at the level of 3-4, with 37% rating at the level of 1-2. Results pertaining to "Held arts classes in spaces built and/or furnished for arts learning" provided somewhat better news, with 59% of respondents rating at the level of 3-4 and 28% at the level of 1-2.
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 by skilled and certified educators, working in safe spaces where the best possible learning experiences can occur.
Jim Palmarini directs the Arts ARE Education campaign.