Seattle Arts Stakeholder Engagement Report
A Research Review
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.
Four community focus groups were conducted within Seattle Public Schools. Additionally, studentspecific 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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.
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, selfsufficient, and independent. They want to leave high school motived 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.
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.
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.
The BERC Group, Inc.
Duane B. Baker, Ed.D
Candace A. Gratama, Ed.D.
Gregory W. Toledo, M.A.
The BERC Group brings experience and an extensive knowledge base to any evaluation project.