Using State Data Systems to Report Information on Arts Education

Claus Von Zastrow

A growing body of research demonstrates the importance of arts education to students’ success in school, life and work. Many states require every school to offer instruction in the arts — which include theater, dance, visual arts, music and media arts — and most require every student to receive arts instruction in at least one grade level. Yet in most states, the condition of arts education remains an open question: How many students truly have access to arts instruction? How many receive it? Does a student’s gender, race, zip code or family income restrict or expand his or her opportunities in the arts? The scant research that exists at the national and state levels paints a picture of limited and inequitable opportunities. Without better information on what’s happening in their own states, decision makers are in the dark

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and Education Commission of the States are tackling this challenge through the Statewide Data Infrastructure Project for Arts Education. Together, they are offering tools and technical assistance to help states extract, analyze and report on data about arts education. The project aims to empower states with the information they need to chart a course toward their goals.

To start, this paper draws on insights from a technical working group of experts in arts education, state data systems and state policy, who met in April 2018 to identify the metrics that would best help states measure progress toward common goals for arts education. Though they understood the challenges of collecting and standardizing data and metrics, members agreed that states can do a great deal in the short term to report critical insights on the health of arts education. Indeed, most statewide longitudinal data systems contain arts education data that never see the light of day.7 A major goal of this project is to help states turn mere numbers into metrics that matter for policy and practice in arts education. This paper offers guidance on key arts-education metrics many states could track by using data they already have. It also identifies meaningful metrics states could adopt in coming years.