An Unfinished Canvas: Local Partnerships in Support of Arts Education in California

by Debbie H. Kim; Dana M. Petersen; Victoria Tse; Katrina R. Woodworth

Apr 16, 2009
In 2006, at the request of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, SRI International conducted a study aimed at assessing the status of arts education in California relative to state goals. The final report, An Unfinished Canvas. Arts Education in California: Taking Stock of Policy and Practice, revealed a substantial gap between policy and practice. The study found that elementary schools in particular are failing to meet state goals for arts education. In light of these findings, The Hewlett Foundation commissioned a series of follow-up studies to identify policy mechanisms or other means of increasing student access to arts education. This study, focusing on the ability of school districts to leverage support for arts education through partnerships with local arts organizations, is one of the follow-up studies. Partnerships may allow for the pooling of resources and lend support to schools in a variety of ways including artists-in-residency programs, professional development for teachers, exposing students to the arts through the provision of one-time performances at school sites, and organizing field trips to performances and exhibits. According to the California Visual and Performing Arts Framework for California Public Schools, partnerships among districts, schools, and arts organizations are most successful when they are embedded within a comprehensive, articulated program of arts education. Questions about the nature of partnerships that California districts and schools have been able to form with arts organizations, and the success of these partnerships to increase students' access to a sequential standards-based course of study in the four arts disciplines, served as the impetus for this study. A team of SRI researchers conducted case studies of partnerships between districts and arts organizations in six diverse California communities in spring 2008. The case study sites were selected for their particular arts education activities and diverse contexts and, as a result, do not offer generalizable data about partnerships between school districts and arts organizations in California. Instead, we highlight the ways that a sample of partnerships promotes arts education in California elementary schools to inform others who may be interested in building partnerships between school districts and arts organizations.
  • Successful Strategy: Most partnerships filled a gap in arts education caused by insufficient funding and created educational opportunities that students would otherwise not have received.
  • Observation: Nearly all partnerships relied on private sources of funding.
  • Observation: Evaluation of partnership services was often based on inputs (e.g. attendance, satisfaction) rather than outcomes (e.g. arts learning).
  • Observation: Partnerships can supplement, but do not substitute, foundational arts education programs offered by schools and districts.
  • Observation: While partnerships may have lasting effects on participating students, their long-term impact on the capacity of school and districts to provide arts instruction is likely to be limited.
  • Observation: Arts organizations, schools, and districts may improve the quality and stability of their partnerships by: 1) assessing school and district needs; 2) establishing clear learning goals and assessing progress towards those goals; 3) exploring embedded professional development for classroom teachers; and 4) sharing responsibility for funding.
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