Happy almost spring! As I write to you, I reflect on my time at ArtsEd Washington. As an organization, we have spent a great deal of time focusing on the future and goals of ArtsEd Washington to ensure that we are adequately serving students, educators, and our community. I am reaching out to you today to share what we have learned this year and ask for advice on how ArtsEd Washington can better serve you. We want to know what problems you are encountering and what we can do to help you solve them.
Since my tenure, I have met with many of you, and have been inspired by your dedication to ensuring that all students in Washington State receive the arts education that the state legally requires. The Arts – which include dance, media arts, music, theatre, and visual arts – are defined by law as a core academic subject, just like Math and Language Arts. That means that the law requires qualified teachers to teach the arts to all students, during the school day, and assess student progress in the arts.
According to a report from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, schools that invest in arts education are positively impacting some of the biggest educational challenges; including increasing test scores and helping students tap into their undiscovered talents. Yet despite the measurable impact, the arts are often seen as a luxury. Washington state currently ranks 46th in state Arts Funding and 36th in education funding. Chronic underfunding and inadequate understanding of the benefits of arts education leads many public schools to cut back or eliminate their arts programs – denying children the well-rounded, high-quality education they’ve been promised.
According to the 2009 Arts Education Research Initiative (AERI) report conducted by the Washington State Arts Commission, nearly half of elementary school students in our state receive less than one hour of arts learning a week, with one in ten students receiving no arts learning at all. Students in low-income communities are least likely to receive high-quality arts programming of any kind during school hours compared to students in more affluent neighborhoods, where higher property taxes and well-funded PTAs provide supplemental arts funding.
ArtsEd Washington is developing new ways to work with elected officials and community leaders whose decisions inform resources and investments in arts education. Last year, we expanded our outreach and built an advocacy platform that elevates the voices of those most affected by our work. We also converted our Arts Lessons in the Classroom (ALIC) to a free, open-source program. With this conversion we estimate this process aim to increase the number of teachers who integrate arts learning into their curricula by 50 per year, meaning an additional ~2000 students in underfunded districts experiencing arts learning each year. One of our main goals for this year is to expand implementation of ALIC, particularly among Title 1 schools outside of King Country.
If your school has a robust, fully funded arts program, you know how integral it is to provide a well-rounded and engaging education. Geography, race, special education status, and income all affect access. By working together to change the system, we can make sure that every student gets the access they deserve. I would also encourage you to celebrate arts education within our district by personally attending and promoting school arts events throughout the year, and as a group, by issuing an Arts Education Month resolution for May, which is observed annually across the state by the governor and many cities, arts organizations, and school boards.
One of the greatest attributes of Washington State is its commitment to philanthropy and building community. Many of you who have given your time, gifts, and energy to our work, for that I thank you. For those who are new to ArtsEd Washington, we are thrilled to have you! I look forward to continuing to do this work alongside you.