Reporting on the Seattle Arts Stakeholder Engagement Report

July 17th was the second of four meetings of the Representative Advisory Committee. This community group has been gathered by the Seattle Public School’s K-12 Arts Learning Collaborative to both inform and solicit input during the Wallace Grant proposal development period.

As a member of this group, I have been asked to share the issues discussed with my fellow “stakeholders” and relay your responses. It sounds rather propagandistic, but I think they really do want to engage the community and keep the discussion open.

So here goes.

A while back you may remember an on-line survey that was sent out via Seattle Public School district.  This survey had to be the shortest ever put forth by the district. There were just two questions: The first asked you to prioritize the two disciplines that you felt should be provided for all students from the following list: dance, music, theatre and visual arts; the second asked you which category best described your role or interest in arts education. That was it. I was relieved that the survey was so brief, and I was concerned that the survey was so brief.

You also may have attended one of the arts education focus group engagement/planning meetings hosted by the Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs that took place last Spring at various schools int he district. These events are part of the SPS arts education proposal planning phase. A primary goal of the collaboration is to develop ongoing, local financial support to show that it’s funding strategy is both sustainable and locally relevant. The final plan will be presented to The Wallace Foundation in January 2013. To clarify, the $1M grant that the district was given last year was for the planning phase only. If the Wallace Foundation approves of the plan, it will award a further, larger implementation grant. Fingers crossed.

The data gathered through these venues was compiled and released by the BERC Group this past June in the form of the Seattle Arts Stakeholder Engagement Report. If you are interested in what direction the Seattle Public Schools is pointed on the arts education compass, this document is interesting reading. You can read the report in its entirety on your own, but for the sake of brevity here I will focus primarily on the report’s Executive Summary, adding my thoughts in red. I am curious to hear what you think too, so please add your ideas to the comment section following this post. Even better if some discussion evolves. I was told that members of the Arts Learning Collaborative would be checking in periodically. Consider this to be part of your role as an arts-in-education “stakeholder.”

Seattle Arts Stakeholder Engagement Report: Executive Summary

The Seattle K-12 Arts Learning Collaborative initiated a community and youth needs assessment that endeavors to capture the perspectives and desires of community members and youth with respect to the development of a comprehensive, sequential arts education for all students in the
district. Seattle Public Schools and The BERC Group partnered to disseminate surveys and to conduct focus groups to provide community members an opportunity to share their perspectives.

Seattle Public Schools authored and disseminated a brief survey to better understand the perspectives of the Seattle community. This survey asked respondents which of the four primary arts disciplines (Dance, Music, Theater, Visual Arts) community members would prioritize for a comprehensive, sequential arts education for all students in the district. A total of 1294 surveys were collected. Survey results suggest respondents, in general, agree Music and Visual Arts should be the priority for a district-wide, comprehensive, and sequential arts education initiative. Results were disaggregated by respondent type. All respondent groups chose either Music or Visual Arts as their first or second choice, with one respondent group exception (Education Admin). When respondent choices are combined, Music and Visual Arts account for 76% of all responses.

So what does this mean? Will the plan be for all schools to get music and visual arts, whether they want them or not? What about schools that have dance and drama? Will they have to eliminate those programs and fire those specialists, no matter how successful those programs may be, or will principals have the opportunity to opt out in favor of keeping the “alternative” arts programing they already have? This looks like it has the potential to be one of those rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul situations.

Four community focus groups were conducted within Seattle Public Schools. Additionally, student-specific focus groups were conducted at four different high schools within the district. Community and student focus group participants were asked to discuss their perceptions/experiences with arts education in Seattle Public Schools, their hopes for future arts education, their ideal experience with each discipline (Dance, Music, Theater, Visual Arts), what they perceive as the biggest barriers to creating a comprehensive arts plan, and what characteristic students should have upon graduating from Seattle Public Schools. Community and student focus groups were held separately. Focus group data was grouped by focus group type (community or student), then analyzed and quantified thematically.

A total of 1294 surveys were collected. The group breaks down as follows:

Parents – 516
Teachers- 348
Cultural Organizations – 117
Teaching Artists – 56
Artists – 52
Educational Administration – 43
Arts Funders – 14
Students – 12
Other – 24

1294 participants, total. That’s like one Skittle in the whole candy counter at Cinerama. Of the 1294, 516 were parents. SPS operates 91 schools which serve over 47,000 students. Assuming that these 47,000 students have at least one parent/guardian who cares about their education somewhat, that’s roughly 1% family participation in the survey. Either SPS didn’t get the word out very well, or very few people care enough about the arts in education to answer a two question survey. Did you hear about the survey? (I know some of you did, because I told you about it). Did you take the time to answer it?

Community focus group participants perceive Seattle Public Schools arts education as unequal and inconsistent across the district. Many believe there is significant variation in the quality and quantity of programs between north and south ends. This inequality is further exacerbated by PTA funds that are more plentiful in the north than in the south. Disciplines and programs offered vary widely from school to school, and there is no evidence of a sequential curriculum that sets students up for long range success. Respondents used terms such as “sporadic,” “haphazard,” and “unpredictable,” when describing program access. Participants believe that arts programs deserve greater priority and respect, and should not be marginalized by a “core-focused” and “test-centric” system. Arts
should be an integral part of a holistic approach to educate students.

Student focus group respondents described having increasingly limited exposure to arts education as they progress through school. In elementary school, students had more art in their day, and it was integrated into different content areas. Once they moved on to middle school and then high school, exposure to arts education diminished, and students were forced to choose one discipline over another. Students also remarked about the inconsistency of arts instruction. Certain disciplines had full-time instructors, while other had only generalists.

Okay, let’s play with numbers again. According to the report, 40 students actively contributed to the focus group discussions. That’s .08% of the student body of Seattle Public Schools. Dang. I wish more students had been involved in those focus groups. I think the students’ comments are the ones we should be listening to most, even if there are far fewer of them, because they are the ones living it (also note that unlike many of the adult respondents, none of them have jobs connected to supporting, or not supporting, the arts in schools). The students also don’t have a hierarchy of importance when it comes to the arts. They want it all.

If you would like to read more student responses, some of them quite pithy, that section of the report can be read here. One quote was especially close to my heart  – “Organizations are more than happy to work with students; you just need a liaison to get connected.” Yeah.

Community focus group respondents would like to see arts play a larger role in the education experience of Seattle Public Schools students. Arts should be integrated into different subject areas.

There are two different approaches to the arts-in-education being discussed here: learning the arts, or arts instruction; and learning through the arts, or arts integration. The students want to learn the arts, but the grown-ups also favor using the arts as a learning tool. Both approaches are valid, although arts integration has had more cachet in the learning community of late. If you want to read about the arts in education back before the term arts integration existed, read this post about my father’s high school experience in the 40s.

Respondents believe that arts education builds creative and critical thinking skills, and thus should be used by teachers as a part of their instructional approach regardless of content area. Respondents would also like to see consistent access to arts education in all schools across the district. This
access should start early. In short, all students should have access to quality arts education at the elementary school level regardless of the school they attend. To provide quality programs and equal access, community partnerships, arts instructors, and teacher training are required. Some respondents would like to see a full time arts instructor at each school to coordinate community partnerships, to train teachers, and to help develop arts integrated curricula for different content areas.

Student participants described their experience as arts-limited, and thus would like to see access to and offerings of arts programs improved. They would like access to the disciplines their school is missing, more time to take arts classes, and opportunities to advance. Students also want to showcase their work. The lack of opportunity to present work and celebrate effort, according to these students, is indicative of school culture. Students need more art career guidance. Many want to pursue careers in arts and are unaware of mentor and internship opportunities. They need help getting started.

Ideal arts education by discipline starts with curriculum updates, according to community focus group participants. Arts curricula need to be updated to be multi-cultural, representative, relevant to students, broader in scope, and integrated with other content areas. If integrated well, participants believe arts disciplines can improve engagement and ensure course content is applicable to the lives of their students. All students should have exposure to each discipline at the elementary school level. Programs that focus on a specific discipline should be sequential from elementary school through high school. To ensure appropriate curriculum, ongoing teacher training, mentorship/internship opportunities for students, and ties to professional arts organizations should be procured and or strengthened.

Students want exposure and access to all four disciplines. The exposure they seek is early, broad, and guided by professional arts instructors. Students want early exposure to develop interest and a foundation in the discipline(s) they choose to pursue down the road.

“The exposure they seek is early, broad, and guided by professional arts instructors.” That statement sums it all up for me. I think if we head in that direction, we will be on the right path.

Many community respondents believe the contemporary cultural climate is a major barrier for any comprehensive arts initiative. Specifically, respondents believe that arts, overall, is undervalued, underappreciated, and perceived as an educational “extra.” This climate is reflected by an overall lack of leadership, funding, and budget allocation that support the arts. What is more, many believe there is little evidence of a top-down, consistent, and long range arts vision.

You hearing this, Superintendent Banda?

Students agree that arts education is not properly prioritized. On the ground, they experience inconsistent and repetitive instruction, and are taught by teachers spread thinly, play aging instruments, and witness discipline inequity. According to students, programs are simply not a priority, and thus receive little funding or support. The exceptions are highly successful and elite programs that garner community-wide attention and external support.

I think they might be referring to the music programs at Garfield, Washington, Hamilton and Roosevelt, which are supported by parent groups like Friends of Washington Music, and exist at schools that house the APP. Either way, the students are obviously aware of the current situation.

Community members believe Seattle Public Schools graduates should have strong thinking skills that will help them succeed in life and in career. Critical, creative, flexible, and independent thinking skills were frequently identified as imperatives for student success beyond graduation. Respondents believe arts play a vital role in developing these skills. Participants believe that students should have exposure to and respect for cultural differences. Arts should provide a varied and positive lens with which students view different ways of expressing and emoting. Finally, many want students to be confident, compassionate, and empathetic community members who pursue career and life with passion and curiosity. The students themselves want to be self-motivated, self-sufficient, and independent. They want to leave high school motivated to pursue their passions and career goals. To do this, they need to be “prepared” and college-ready.

All focus group participants were asked to fill out a survey at the end of group sessions. Surveys focused on access/offerings of arts classes, the importance of arts education to student skills, achievement and advancement, and whether or not the quantity and quality of arts education in Seattle Public Schools is satisfactory. A total of 228 surveys were submitted by focus group participants.

You can do the math on this one.

Over 90% of respondents surveyed believe that all students should have access to arts education, that arts education is essential to learning, that arts should be included as a core subject, and that arts fosters positive behavior and skills that prepare students for college, career, and citizenship. Eight-six percent of respondents believe that arts education positively impacts the development of self-management, collaborative, social, and critical thinking skills. Ninety-four percent of respondents believe arts education builds confidence.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents, or greater, believe that arts education improves or increases overall quality of life, test scores, academic achievement, probability of high school graduation, and probability of attending college. Ninety-four percent believe that arts education increases students’ understanding of a multicultural society.

The survey also asked participants to rate the importance of having each arts discipline instructed by an arts certified specialist. Ninety-five percent of respondents believe it is important/very important to have arts certified specialists teaching Music and Visual arts. For Dance and Theatre, 80% and 92% of respondents, respectively, believe arts certified specialists teaching these disciplines are important/very important.

There are some excellent non-certified art specialists out there. What matters is that the teachers are good, not that they are certified, but I realize a certified teacher (and member of the Teachers’ Union) may not agree.

Lastly, the survey asked participants whether or not they are satisfied with the quantity and quality of arts education in Seattle public schools. Ninety-two percent of all respondents are currently not satisfied with the quantity of arts education. Additionally, over 75% of respondents are not satisfied with the quality of what is offered.

The qualitative and quantitative data that inform this report highlight the diversity of perceptions, experiences, opinions, and beliefs about arts education in Seattle Public Schools. Despite this diversity, respondents, by in large, agree that arts education should be prioritized by the district. Additionally, all students, regardless of school, should have early and equal access to quality arts education.

I suggest reading the entire report if you are interested in the statistics on the data collected, as well as what questions were asked during the meetings and how participants responded (some comments are quoted verbatim). This following list of participant recommendations is from the concluding section of the report:

RECOMMENDATIONS
Focus group respondents discussed their perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and in some instances, their recommendations. Below are participant recommendations, in order of frequency.

Integrating Arts with Core Curriculum
Respondents believe that art is highly relevant to core subjects because it builds creative thinking skills and improves engagement and application. Furthermore, arts programs often require students to practice emoting, presenting, reciting, collaborating, and problem-solving. The development of these skills is essential to a students’ education regardless of subject area. Respondents see opportunities to integrate dance with PE, to integrate theatre with social sciences, to integrate music with math, and visual arts with language arts. Participants would like arts certified instructors to work with teachers to develop curricula that connects arts disciplines with core subject areas.

Predictable and Sequential Art Education
Focus group respondents believe that arts education in Seattle Public Schools is “sporadic,” “haphazard,” and “unpredictable.” They believe each school offers a unique mix of arts programs that follow equally unique curriculums. As a result, according to some discussions, the arts education students are exposed to is stunted, fractured, and inconsistent. Respondents would like a vision for a sequential and balanced curriculum that is predictable. is vision should be This vision should be This vision should be This vision should be This vision should be This vision should be This vision should be This vision should be This vision should be This vision should be communicated proactively to all stakeholders. A communication plan dedicated to vision, implementation, and curriculum developments should be ongoing and reliable.

Sharing Success
Respondents recognize the variation in programs across the district, and while discussing this several participants recommended learning from those successes. For example, some schools have great success with certain programs and or specific disciplines. Some respondents believe the district would benefit from a public schools arts consortium/forum that identifies program and discipline successes within the district. Developing and disseminating a set of best practices for programs can help school administrators set up new or improve existing programs at each school. Schools, community organizations, teaching artists, and others can then use this consortium as a resource for resources sharing, teacher training, and curriculum development.

And my personal favorite…

Arts Education Liaison
Many respondents would like to see positions dedicated to developing and strengthening community partnerships. Respondents believe that Seattle’s art community is strong but disconnected from public schools. As a primary contact point that links community organizations to schools, the arts liaison position could help bridge this gap. This position would be charged with maintaining and creating the partnerships that can provide schools/students with arts opportunities such as external events, artist residencies, career guidance, mentorship, internships, and more. The liaison would create a communication plan that ensures all schools are aware of the resources and opportunities available to them.

Note that SPS had a designated arts liaison, Kathleen Allen, until her position was eliminated in 2011. Going forward looks like it will require some backtracking…

What do you think?

3 responses to “Reporting on the Seattle Arts Stakeholder Engagement Report

  1. Julie Paschkis

    I was struck by how impenetrable the language of the report was. I needed your translations in red to really understand what they were saying. They are asking for participation and input but the formal latinate structure of the report is like a wall against participation.
    I think the needs can be described in simple language. Students want and need more art. That art should be well taught and available to all students. It should be part of their education and their lives. It should be part of the main dish, not the gravy.

  2. Thanks for wading through all this verbiage Margaret. I liked your metaphor of the Skittle, one of many at the Cinerama.
    A problem all school districts have is turnover and school-readiness of students. It’s hard to include new students in a sequential procession of any learning, and we all want to be inclusive of everyone. Yet we want our students to progress and learn new things each year. There’s something to be said of staying put for schools when you have a family, but that is understandably an unreachable ideal for too many families. Do you think it’s getting harder to serve all students, not just in quality arts instruction, but in any education, given the mandates, the varying levels of preparation for school that many children have, and the variety of needs in our student population? I am wondering if in your father’s day, when they had that great high school, if many of the underserved weren’t just dropping out before high school back then, leaving the more “teachable” students to be taught.

  3. I agree — many thanks for doing the heavy lifting and summarizing this report. As a dance person, I’m sorry that my discipline didn’t make the top two cut, but I’m more concerned with the general disarray in the Seattle schools when it comes to arts education. My family was fortunate — we lucked into several excellent programs, but they and the other good work I’m aware of seem to be singularities in the district — there’s no structure to help ensure that all kids get the same high-quality experiences.

    I also want to add my two cents here and ask that arts literacy be a part of the larger discussion. In the main, public school arts education is mostly about the doing or making. Rarely is it about understanding foundational works. The term ‘art appreciation’ has been devalued to the point that it’s really not useful, but I’d like to raise my hand for the concept, if not for the descriptive language — I’d like our kids to make a dance and analyze a dance, play an instrument and understand a symphony, paint a portrait and see one as well. In English classes, we teach writing and have students read and analyze foundational works — we can do the same in the arts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s