To the Editor:
Thank you for the recent pair of articles on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) efforts to restore arts education (“Little Music to their Ears”/ “Only 35 LA public schools get an A in supporting the arts,” Nov 2) and the network of arts organizations providing arts education (“When schools can’t provide arts education, nonprofit groups step in,” Nov 3).
Arts education rarely receives front-page coverage. We applaud LAUSD and its willingness to track the Arts Equity Index data so that they can begin to address the deep inequity that impedes our students’ access to arts education. As the regional voice for the arts, Arts for LA advocates for arts education for all 1.6 million students in LA County, and we applaud the efforts of Dr. Rory Pullens, the school board, and school administrators like Leah Bass-Bayliss to improve the quality of education our children are receiving.
However, in your coverage of this important work, the Times chose to grade schools based on their offering of arts education, removing external environmental factors. As explained in the article, in order “to focus strictly on arts availability, the Times analysis removed the poverty factor from calculations.” This is problematic because poverty indicators are key to understanding the data and are integral to the entire initiative. The Arts Equity Index was designed to complement district-wide initiatives to create better indicators of equity. Groups like the Advancement Project, Community Coalition, and Inner-City Struggle helped the district consider these critical indicators in recent years (http://laschoolreport.com/commentary-a-plea-to-pass-the-student-need-index/). Removing the poverty indicator from the Arts Equity Index does not give the complete context of a school and its efforts to achieve equity through the arts. It is critical to address the system surrounding each child as it impacts their equitable access to courses, resources, and in this case, arts programming.
Additionally, while overall LAUSD’s progress is encouraging for many schools, assigning a grade does not serve the spirit of the Arts Equity Index and is a disservice to the public because the grades do not reflect the entire complexity of each individual school’s capacity and resources – especially since the grades do not take into account the poverty indicator. Given the curved nature of the data, some schools who were assigned an “A” are still relatively under resourced (50 out of 90 on the score). There is much work yet to be done, even for our “A” and “B” schools.
Data can be a powerful tool for schools and communities, and Arts for LA is dedicated to empowering parents and teachers to understand their school’s data in order to advocate for greater access to arts education. Through ACTIVATE, our free arts advocacy leadership program offered through generous support from the LA County Arts Commission and others, Arts for LA works to ensure all children, regardless of socioeconomic status, receive equitable access to arts education throughout their primary educational career through the critical support of community advocates.
We applaud the attention on this critical issue. Arts for LA stands with you to ensure that together – parents, teachers, school administrators, and everyone who cares about our children’s education - we can work to ensure every student receives a complete education that includes the arts.
Executive Director, Arts for LA
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Gary Leonard. Culver City USD Symphonic Jazz Orchestra, 2nd Grade, La Ballona Elementary. Courtesy of Arts for All.