Gaining the Arts Advantage:
Lessons from School Districts That Value the Arts

Featuring over 90 profiles and case studies of school districts in 42 states, this report reveals success factors that lead to strong, district-wide arts education programs.

Summary of the Findings:
This is the first national study to look at arts education on the school district level.

The study's central finding from the educators who were interviewed is that "the single most critical factor in sustaining arts education in their schools is the active involvement of influential segments of the community in shaping and implementing the policies and programs of the district." It explains that in districts with strong arts education, the community—broadly defined as parents and families, artists, arts organizations, businesses, local civic and cultural leaders and institutions—is actively engaged in the arts politics and instructional programs of the district. This central and most critical success factor—the community—is more explicitly broken down to describe formal and informal interactions:

  • active parent and community involvement in school arts programs
  • interdisciplinary teams involving arts specialists in the development of curricula
  • arts faculty involvement in community arts events
  • artist residencies
  • student exhibitions and performances for community audiences

Twelve additional "critical success factors" are cited:

  • The School Boardprovides a supportive policy framework and environment for the arts.
  • The Superintendentregularly articulates a vision for arts education.
  • Continuityof school and community leadership of roughly a decade.
  • The District Arts Coordinatorfacilitates program implementation throughout a school system and maintains an environment of support for arts education.
  • A Cadre of Principalscollectively supports the policy of arts education for all students.
  • The Teacher as Artistis allowed to and encouraged to learn and grow as both teacher and artist.
  • Parent/Public Relationshelp arts education programs to be known throughout the community in order to secure support and funding for them.
  • An Elementary Foundationin arts education is the basis for strong system-wide arts education.
  • Opportunities for Higher Levels of Achievementsuch as magnet schools, Advanced Placement programs, and summer and weekend programs help secure and sustain community support for the district's overall educational goals.
  • National, State, and Other Outside Forcesoffer resources, which are marshalled to support arts education programs.
  • Planningprovides a comprehensive vision and plan for arts education, which is implemented incrementally.
  • Continuous Improvement happens through periodic opportunities for reflection.

How the Report Was Compiled:
More than 500 districts were recommended for review, and 300 districts responded to the opportunity. Ultimately, 91 districts were profiled because they exhibited a sustained attempt to reach all students in all schools, and because they were willing to commit the time and energy to respond to the interrogation of the project team. Eight of these profiles are more in-depth case studies of districts that vary geographically and demographically in order to provide models for different types of school districts. Forty-two states are represented by the districts in the study.

What Is Included in the Report:
The report includes a foreword describing the genesis of the study and an introduction by renowned educator Ramon C. Cortines outlining some of the "why" of having arts education before the study presents some of the strategic "how" to have arts education.

The study shares strategies from 91 school districts for implementing arts education system-wide. The profiles and longer case studies address components of practice such as staffing, program and resource development, as well as how to sustain arts education programs in the face of defending a district's performance through tests that focus largely on reading, math, and writing.

Some School District Profiles with Strong Parent Involvement or Advocacy Successes

The parents' support helped us decide to put a high priority on rebuilding the arts program here.
School Board Member, Las Cruces, NM

It is often parental pressure that has persuaded the district to fund full-time positions in the arts.
Community Superintendent, New York, NY

The arts don't take formalized systems to get going. It's all because parents care for their children.
Director of Secondary Education, Hattiesburg, MS

p. 19–21 Greenville, SC
p. 22–23 Las Cruces, NM
p. 23–26 Miami-Dade County, FL
p. 30–32 Redondo Beach, CA
p. 46 Community School District #3, New York, NY
p. 50 Glen Ridge, NJ
p. 52 Hattiesburg, MS
p. 64 Missoula County, MT
p. 78 Seminole County, FL
p. 80 Spring Branch, TX (Houston)

Full Text of the Report (pdf)

This report was produced in 1999 by the national Arts Education Partnership and The President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities with support from corporate, foundation, and federal partners: GE Fund; The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; Binney & Smith, Inc.; National Endowment for the Arts; U.S. Department of Education; and The White House Millennium Council.

Advisors to the Report:

  • Gordon Ambach, Executive Director, Council of Chief State School Officers, Washington, DC
  • Benjamin Canada, Superintendent, Portland Public Schools, Portland, OR
  • Ramon C. Cortines, Executive Director, The Pew Network for Standards-Based Reform, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA
  • Diane Frankel, Director, Institute of Museum and Library Services, Washington, DC
  • Doug Herbert, Director, Arts in Education, National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, DC
  • Jim Herbert, Director, Division of Research and Education Programs, National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Dave Master, Director, Artist Development and Training, Warner Brothers Feature Animation, Glendale California
  • Bonnie Politz, Senior Program Officer, Center for Youth Development and Policy Research, Academy for Educational Development, Washington, DC
  • Jane Walters, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Education, Nashville, TN
  • Dennie Palmer Wolf, Executive Director, PACE - Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA