Study Finds California Schools Falling Woefully Behind in Music Education

California music education
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California music education
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Photo Credit: Kelly Sikkema

Despite reworking school funding formulas and updating arts education requirements, progress has been slow in an effort for California to meet its own education metrics.

Create CA has announced the release of a new report from SRI Education that provides a snapshot of student access to state-mandated arts education in California’s public schools. Numerous studies have continuously shown that arts education is essential for academic success, preparation for today’s jobs, civic engagement, and student wellbeing. But California isn’t meeting its own requirements in providing the necessary arts instruction to its students.

The State of Arts Education in California evaluates data from the 2019-20 school year. It measures the degree to which students have an opportunity to complete standard-based arts education as required by state law. Some schools have made incremental improvements compared with baseline data from the 2005-06 school year, but “nearly nine in ten schools” continue to fall short of complying with state requirements in music, dance, theater, and visual arts.

“This report shows that some school and district leaders still don’t treat the visual and performing arts as an essential academic subject,” says Tom DeCaigny, executive director of Create CA. “Dedicated time in the curriculum, appropriately trained teachers, and supplies and equipment are all needed for high-quality arts education. California public schools are falling short of their mandate to prepare the next generation of Californians for civic engagements and the workforce of the future.”

Among the key findings in changes to access in arts education between 2006 and 2020, the study finds that only 11% of California schools offered instruction in all four arts disciplines (music, dance, theater, and visual arts) as required by state law. That number remained unchanged between the two study periods. Additionally, the percentage of individual schools offering standards-based instruction in at least one arts discipline increased from 71% to 79%

Elementary schools and those serving higher proportions of children from low-income families are generally less able to provide access to arts instruction. High schools are more than twice as likely to provide access to a course of study in the four arts disciplines than middle or elementary schools.

“Coming back from COVID, we’ve seen that arts classes have played a key role in supporting student mental health and promoting overall academic achievement,” says Jeannine Flores, Los Angeles County Office of Education Arts & STEAM Coordinator and chair of the Create CA board. “Districts are starting to partner with local arts organizations and look for ways to leverage flexible state and federal funding to give students access to the quality education to which they are entitled.”

Educators and policymakers have advocated for expanded access to arts education at a state level, leading to some of the policy changes and increases in access described in the report. The report calls particular attention to the need to expand opportunities to train teachers in all areas of arts instruction — either through developing existing teachers or new pipelines for bringing accredited arts teachers into classrooms.