Arts Education for Minority Children Drops

March 08, 2011 3 min read
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Fewer children are getting access to arts education, whether at school or elsewhere, according to a new analysis of federal data issued by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Especially alarming is that the overall decline in recent decades is coupled with a big drop for African-American and Hispanic youths.

The research, part of a broader look at arts participation by U.S. adults, finds that fewer 18-year-olds surveyed in 2008 reported having received any arts education in childhood than did those surveyed in 1982, dropping from about 65 percent to 50 percent. The report also contains survey data in 1992 and 2002, and each successive time, the overall figure was lower.

The analysis includes a broader pool of adults for the breakdown by race and ethnicity, including those ages 18 to 24. Here, the data are most stark. Just 26 percent of African-American adults surveyed in 2008 reported having received any arts education in childhood, a huge drop from the 51 percent who replied affirmatively in 1982.

Art-Less Generation

A new survey finds that 18- to 24-year-olds received significantly less arts education that did the previous generation of young people.


Note: Numbers are rounded.
SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts

“We’ve moved from a half to a quarter of all African-Americans,” said Sunil Iyengar, the director of research and analysis at the arts endowment, an independent federal agency. “You’re talking about staggering rates of decline for African-Americans, and for Hispanics, too.”

Among Hispanics ages 18 to 24, the figure for having received any arts education plummeted to 28 percent in 2008, from 47 percent in 1982. (Hispanics did see a slight uptick from 2002 to 2008.) For non-Hispanic whites, the figure was down just slightly.

No Shock

The study, conducted by researchers Nick Rabkin and E.C. Hedberg from the University of Chicago, is one of three reports to examine public participation in the arts that the endowment issued last month aimed at providing additional analyses of federal survey data the endowment first released in 2009.

Sandra S. Ruppert, the director of the Arts Education Partnership, an advocacy coalition based in Washington, said she wasn’t surprised by the reported decline in arts education.

“While it isn’t a shock, any time a study with a large data set like this comes out, it helps tell a little bit more of the story,” said Ms. Ruppert, who said she sees increased evidence that “the arts are slowly disappearing from the curriculum.”

The study is but one recent indicator that access to arts education may be in decline. The authors point to state and local studies, as well as a 2008 report from the Center on Education Policy, based on a national survey of school officials. That report from the Washington research group suggested that arts education had fallen off since the federal No Child Left Behind Act took effect in 2002.

However, the new analysis from the endowment notes that national data on access to arts education since the law was enacted are “inconclusive.”

It cites a 2009 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that did not see much overall change. Ninety percent of the elementary teachers surveyed reported that instructional time for arts education stayed about the same between the 2004-05 and 2006-07 school years. The GAO study noted, though, that schools identified as low-performing under the NCLB law and those with higher percentages of minority students were more likely to report a reduction in time devoted to the arts.

Narric W. Rome, the senior director for federal affairs and arts education at Americans for the Arts, an advocacy group in Washington, called the new analysis from the endowment “some of the freshest and most interesting coverage” of access to arts education he’s seen.

NCES Data Coming

A critical new resource is expected later this year, he said. The National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education, is to release a new round of survey data from educators about arts instruction in public schools. The last such data came out in 2002.

Although the endowment data do not distinguish between arts education in and outside school, the endowment’s Mr. Iyengar said there’s good reason to believe schools are a major cause of the decline. First, he points to data showing the drop by arts-content areas: The two largest were music and visual arts.

“Visual arts and music ... are the most widely available arts classes through public schools,” he said.

The drop for blacks and Hispanics further suggests that schools are likely a big part of the change, he said, as it’s believed that for those groups, arts instruction is more likely to take place in school than elsewhere.

A version of this article appeared in the March 09, 2011 edition of Education Week as Arts Education for Minority Children Drops


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