I attended a high school that not only encouraged participation in extracurricular visual and performing arts activities, but also integrated the arts into its core curriculum. As someone who sang in choir and performed in musicals, my learning experience during the school day was enhanced knowing that the arts were valued as more than a hobby or activity. I had access to data about my progress and growth not just in math, English, and science but also in courses like art history and music theory.
My experience with arts education data is just one example of how this information can be helpful to students. To ensure more students have access to more information, the Education Commission of the States (ECS) and the National Endowment for the Arts are spearheading an effort to boost states’ capacity for collecting and reporting on arts education data. The organizations recently released a 50-state comparison, which assesses the capacity of each state and the District of Columbia to aggregate and report on arts education data that already exists in their state data systems. While states have made tremendous progress on and investments in their education data systems, the organizations found that more work remains to ensure arts education information is made publicly available. For example, of the 44 states that collect data on enrollment in art courses, only 13 actually publish that data. This lack of availability is a barrier that prevents families and communities from making actionable and well-informed decisions.
Arts education data was really helpful to me and I was lucky to have access to it. But not everyone has access to the information they need. For example, if a student is interested in transferring schools and wants to know how many instructional hours a school devotes to the arts, that information cannot be found because it’s not made publicly available.
In order to figure out what data states do collect, members of ECS’s policy team read through hundreds of documents including report cards, official memoranda, data dictionaries, and data entry manuals. This research is critical to helping states collect and report on arts education data because when students and their families don’t have access to the information they need, it hinders their opportunities to excel in and through the arts. DQC also believes that public reporting should provide parents and the public with meaningful information about students and schools. Each year we review school report cards to examine what data states are providing and share our findings and recommendations for state leaders in our Show Me the Data report. Finding, using, and understanding publicly available data can be a challenge for parents, teachers, and policy professionals alike, but progress is possible. DQC found that state report cards are easier to find and use than they have been in the past. Still, not reporting information about arts education keeps families and communities in the dark when they need to make important decisions.
Having access to arts education data about my own performance and school was critical at many stages of my education journey, but I also didn’t realize at the time what I was missing out on. I would have been able to make even more informed decisions with access to publicly available information about arts education in my district and state. As states continue to make progress and invest in their data systems, reporting more information about the arts will empower more students to meaningfully engage with the arts as a core part of their education.
This blog post is also available as a story on Medium.