Art Works Blog

Taking Note: Statewide Data Infrastructure Project for Arts Education—A Catalyst for Policy & Engagement

It’s always gratifying—if all too rare—to see a New Year’s resolution become a full-fledged action item. A perennial goal of the NEA’s, for example, has been to bring greater access and transparency to public data about K-12 student participation in arts education.

In 2014, the goal was inscribed in the NEA’s strategic plan for arts education. In 2017, it became part of the agency’s five-year research agenda. But 2018 will be the year in which, thanks to a new agreement with the Education Commission of the States (ECS), we strive to strengthen capacity for public-private partnerships within all 50 states to undertake (or, if already active, to continue) this important work. Our hope is that key metrics related to students’ access and enrollment in K-12 arts education—as well as the underlying data and the methods for obtaining and analyzing them—become integral to education policy discussions within states, across states, and ultimately at the national level.

The reasons for this push are straightforward. The NEA is committed to ensuring all students are engaged and empowered through an excellent arts education. Although the U.S. Department of Education (ED) occasionally surveys schools across the country to report on the provision of arts education, better data are required at the state, school district, and local levels, especially to guide resource allocation. State policymakers, school district officials, civic and business leaders, and parents all need timelier and more detailed information on the presence (or absence) of arts education in specific schools and communities.

Leading up to the present effort, the NEA has invested steadily in arts education data-sharing. For instance, under the “Collective Impact” project type within its Arts Education grant category, the NEA has provided funds to Chicago-based Ingenuity, Inc. for its ArtLook Map (which collects arts education data from Chicago public schools and arts organizations); to the California Alliance for Arts Education for its CREATE CA’s Arts Education Data Project (which extracts arts education data from ED-funded statewide longitudinal data systems); and to many communities and school districts that are assessing the status and quality of arts education in their localities. These assessments will enable local stakeholders to develop action plans to ensure that all students participate in the arts over time.

Despite this progress, it has become clear that a) a large coordinated effort is needed, and b) with the right organizational partner, the NEA can play a catalytic role. In 2016 the agency commissioned a feasibility study exploring creation of such an effort. The study, based partly on interviews with state education data managers and with other experts in the field, highlighted recent and ongoing efforts to pull data specific to arts education from existing datasets at state education agencies, and to report the findings statewide. These promising approaches, long underway in several states, are sure to yield crucial lessons for the present initiative.

But the study also identified value-added opportunities for the NEA to assist public-private partnerships in every state, regardless of the state’s own arts education data-extraction capacity, or the maturity of its longitudinal data system. The study, in short, led to creation of the NEA’s Statewide Data Infrastructure Project for Arts Education. Last year, through a national competition, the Education Commission of the States was selected as the NEA’s cooperator for the project. Over a two-year period, the NEA and ECS will:

  • Establish a committee of leaders across the country who will work together to identify and publicly share key arts metrics that states should consider extracting from existing education data systems.
  • Determine the current capacity level of states to report out data on arts education, taking into consideration any changes in state leadership and state policies that occur based on the 2018 elections. (To learn more about state legislation as it relates to education data, see Education Commission of the States' policy snapshot on Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems.)
  • Develop a toolkit to provide user guides, dashboard wireframes, and training materials to help states build their own systems for collecting, extracting, analyzing, reporting, and communicating about arts education data.
  • Provide in-depth technical assistance and outreach to help a select number of states across a range of readiness and capacity levels add arts metrics to their education data systems.
  • Conduct outreach to leadership of state education agencies, state education policymakers, and other stakeholders to help them understand how to extract, analyze, and report key arts metrics from their education data systems.
  • Publicly disseminate a comprehensive report that presents all of the tools and resources created and provides recommendations for effective practices and lessons learned.

If successful, these actions—engaging stakeholders in dialogue, creating a supportive policy environment, disseminating user guides and tools, and sharing effective practices—will benefit the entire field of arts education, including communities and states that already are making arts education data publicly available.

As we embark on the project (and on 2018 itself), we anticipate potential spillover benefits. In the long term, access to fine-grained data could inform robust research and evaluation about the impacts of arts education. In the nearer term, NEA grantmaking could support statewide deployment of tools and resources created through this project—whether to extract or analyze arts education data, or to develop and implement communication strategies around the findings. Meanwhile, we look forward to engaging states on which types of solutions will work best for them when it comes to extracting and elevating data about arts education access and enrollment.

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Comments

Submitted by Julie Hale (not verified) on

Data that would be relevant for Missouri should include allocation of resources for supplies and equipment, whether adequate classrooms/facilities are dedicated to the arts disciplines being taught, student/teacher ratio in those classrooms, and competitive salaries for certified arts specialists. Of particular concern is teacher planning time, typically the classroom teachers share planning time while their students are in arts classes. While this logistical matter compels schools to keep arts instruction, it also limits the frequency and quality of any arts integration delivered in the building.

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