ED Releases New Report on Arts Education in U.S. Public Schools

On Monday, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), part of the U.S. Department of Education, released the findings of the first nationwide arts survey in a decade that comprehensively documents the state of arts education in U.S. public schools.

Arts Report Cover PhotoAt the announcement, Secretary Arne Duncan pointed to the importance of the report because it allows us to compare changes in arts education over time, and it’s the first survey that enables us to get a clear sense of how the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law has affected arts education.

“It’s a good news, bad news story,” according to Secretary Duncan.  On the one hand, there have not been significant national declines in the availability of music and visual arts instruction in elementary and secondary schools. However, for theater and dance in elementary schools, the percentages of schools making these art forms available went from 20 percent 10 years ago to only 4 and 3 percent, respectively, in the 2009-10 school year.  In addition, at more than 40 percent of secondary schools, coursework in arts was not required for graduation in the 2009-10 school year.

Most troubling is an “equity gap” between the availability of arts instruction as well as the richness of course offerings for students in low-poverty schools compared to those in high-poverty schools, leading students who are economically disadvantaged to not get the enrichment experiences of affluent students.

The Department of Education is tackling this equity gap by allowing states flexibility under NCLB, and through a competitive priority for the arts and humanities in the Promise Neighborhood competition.

“A well-rounded education is simply too vital to our students’ success to let the teaching of the arts and humanities erode,” Secretary Duncan concluded at the announcement.

Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 1999-2000 and 2009-10 is a product of the National Center for Education Statistics at the Institute of Education Sciences.

To view the full report please visit here, and click here to read Secretary Duncan’s prepared remarks.


  1. I would like to speak to music education. When I was in elementary, we had not only an art teacher but also a music teacher. Many schools where I have worked in my career, which spans almost 40 years, have had music teachers, but many have not. I believe that music is also very important in the education of the young students of our nation. Through my elementary music education, I was exposed to traditional folk music from around the world as well as folk dances. If our students are truly going to be able to think globally (literally and figuratively), they need a similar background in music. Also, research shows that an understanding of music can help lead to an enhanced understanding of math and science, which are organically related. Therefore, I hope that music will be considered in any discussion of “the arts.”

  2. I want balanced, creative, problem-solving citizens living in and leading this country.
    A part of the solution for developing such citizens is a strong belief in arts education.
    As a country, we have no choice but to support public education’s arts curriculum developmnt and delivery – to not do so will result in a nation at GREATEST RISK.

  3. I haven’t read the report yet (about to) but from the brief comments that this report is only looking at data to do with what has happened in the last 10 years only, if it doesn’t mention a longer historical arc, then it’s actually not great news for the Visual and Musical arts as the Arne Duncan quote above suggests, at all. Over the last 30 years art teachers and visual arts in particular have been cut or reduced by 45% in US schools (since the 70s). These jobs, and more importantly, the time of frequent exposure to the arts for children (weekly if not daily versus quarterly on rotation- what my child receives in a very good public school but what other kids in our city do not, if at all) has suffered as a result, and has NOT been restored to those levels from 20-30 years prior to NCLB. So it’s perhaps a study that needs to be further scrutinized to get the real story. Who funded the study exactly- is it the federal govt? What is their real interest and agenda? Be careful! It may not be exactly all that positive if it’s not truly independent. None-the-less, it’s good any study is coming out because it 1) informs to a certain degree and 2) opens up the debate again. 21st century employers ARE in need of creative problem-solvers and great communicators- as an employer, we have terrible trouble finding folks who are truly competent in this but the arts help far more than any single subject as they are so multi-dimensional. And no, children should never be tested for this- what a perfect formula for killing creativity. But a great way to keep an army of bureaucrats in work perpetually…to monitor more and more… Schools and teachers really need to stand up for the children they serve. If they don’t, the least of their problems is their own personal burn out in a career they thought they wanted for live, for no really good reason other than not fighting for a better way to teach; the worst of the problems is what’s happening around the country in many, many areas, especially the poorer areas, where whole generations of children are being brought through a system as guineau pigs to see if some politician’s education experiment could work. The treasure that is our greatest resource, our creative thinking kids and their potential is being completed squandered and hindered. Wow. And they prefer to save rainforests…who do they think will come up with the idea that makes sense on how to really do that?? I shall step off the soap box now, but nothing changes unless we all do our part to facilitate that change…so how are you working on that? Thanks for writing back- I’d love to hear what solutions you have. (We employ a small army of great art teachers we send into schools around the country!)

  4. Arts are so important. The creativity muscle that all business crave is formed and nurtured in the arts. More and more, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) initiatives are discovering the “magic” happens because of creativity and more advanced programs are integrating arts into STEM programs = STEAM.

  5. I was actually very excited to read that art education is staying in schools. Art education does prepare individuals for jobs and careers in the future. It aids the development of creative thinking and problem solving. Theater education teaches individuals to speak confidently and effectively to get a message across to an audience, which is a vital skill in the professional world. Theater has a unique benefit in that it can force everyone involved to start on a level playing field in a vulnerable spot. Everyone is asked to be someone else and develop that character. It is a challenge, an often uncomfortable one, and in that regard, it is greatly beneficial to preparing students for careers and future circumstances. It can also bring the group closer together because everyone is in a vulnerable situation. Art education also promotes safe outward expression. It gives students a medium through which they can say, create, be and do almost anything they feel necessary in order to communicate a message. Finding different and effective ways to communicate is not only a good quality to have but it is a form of problem solving, which is a quality we all know professionals should have. Teaching students math and science skills that they will never use again in their life or careers and then testing them on how well they retain those skills is not preparing them for their future. This is the 21st century, and the future lies in thinking outside the box, not streamlining education.

  6. Someday we will look back at this era of pervasive high stakes testing and Race to Nowhere and truly understand just how incredibly damaging it has been to our kids and to public education. What a stark waste of time, money and human potential.

  7. is this 21st century????? is this getting our kids prepared for jobs of the 21st century????? is this getting kids college and career ready????? schools can only do so much and if a child can’t do the basics, how can art ed fill the gap????? also if so important, why are those areas not held to the same evaluation and accountability standards as all other teachers?????


    • Really, did you read the article with any kind of critical eye? And, really, you have to be convinced of the value of art, e.g., visual arts and studio arts, musical arts, theater, dance, etc.? If life is only about college readiness and career readiness, then vo-tech and training programs are for you and yours.

    • Have you not read any of the articles on what employers are looking for? They want employees that can problem solve, think out side of the box, be flexible, not see mistakes but instead opportunities to change course, learn, and try again. All of those skills and many more come from the arts. The arts help us relate to other cultures, be more compassionate, and express ourselves. What a sad world we would live in if we didn’t give kids access to the arts.
      I, as an art teacher, am held accountable to teach the frameworks for my state. I am evaluated just like any other teacher. Frankly it would be a sad day if we ever started testing in the arts. How can you test someone’s creativity, emotions, etc; and why would you want to? I’m assuming you haven’t bothered to enter an art room recently, but basic skills that get lost in the regular classroom because of lack of time are used daily in the art room. I constantly infuse aspects of math, literacy, science, and social studies into each lesson I teach.

    • Research has shown that the arts contribute to the development of “Global Intelligence” because they engage the full brain in multi-dimensional “ways of knowing.” The artistic process integrates sensory knowing, emotional knowing, cognitive knowing and kinesthetic knowing into an afferent and co-informing whole. This signifies the height of human intelligence in action. This form of intelligence far surpasses the skills required to “take a test” and “get a job” although it enhances those capabilities as well. This is precisely what happens to our students when REAL art is made in classrooms under the guidance of a qualified art educator. I would also suggest that you give ear to the issues of teenage violence, suicide, bullying, depression, etc. and consider that the arts provide a venue through which young people can identify, reflect upon, and give organized, intelligent aesthetic voice to personal concerns. This aspect of schooling is arguably far MORE central to the individual’s education than the (also important) concerns of testing and career. It is logically more critical to educate our students’ inner selves than to place inordinately focus on their outer skills. Still think the arts do not prepare students for the 21st century?

    • Becky,

      This is the 21st century. Jobs in the 21st century require knowledge of the basics, but also how to create, imagine, and invent. Art education fosters those talents. If a child has a talent for drawing, how does your version of education nurture that talent? (I am not trying to be snarky, okay just a little bit.) Does your basic education include basic English grammar? Sentences begin with a capital letter and end with a single punctuation mark.

    • And we know how that can trip you up in the modern workplace, loaded as it is with literati. I can just hear that future boss now: “That’s just the sort of thing up with which I won’t put!”

Comments are closed.