Teaching Artist Development is Key to Education Equity

on April 26, 2021

P.S. ARTS was founded in response to state education budget cuts and glaring inequities in access to a high-quality education that includes the arts. While California is among the wealthiest, most creative, and politically influential states in the nation, its public schools rank among the country’s worst (40th in the 2020 U.S. News & World Report K-12 rankings). Over 80% of students enrolled in the state’s largest district, Los Angeles Unified, come from low-income families and 90% identify as people of color (California Department of Education, 2020). There is no question that enhancing public school performance is a critical step toward achieving a more just, healthy, and thriving California.

Decades of research support the positive impact of arts in schools on youth, including increased academic achievement and improved social emotional health (See Stoelinga, Joyce, & Silk, 2013). Participation in the arts is proven to be especially critical for young people affected by systemic racism and economic inequality (See Wan, Ludwig, & Boyle, 2018). Despite this evidence, arts programming in California public schools is scarce and inequitably distributed so that the students who would benefit the most are the least likely to have opportunities to create, connect, and achieve through the arts (Morrison, 2019). According to the 2020 Otis Report on the Creative Economy, about 1 in 9 jobs in California, and 1 in 5 in LA County, is in a creative industry. Clearly, the lack of fair access to arts education in our state’s public schools has a significant impact on our young people’s academic and economic opportunity and overall wellbeing.

For nearly thirty years, P.S. ARTS has responded to these persistent injustices by providing arts programs strategically designed to support high quality curriculum, effective teaching, and opportunity equity in public schools. We recognize that, as with all subjects, the benefits of an arts education are closely tied to the knowledge and skills of teachers; individuals capable of fully leveraging the arts to engage youth in learning and empower them to become thought leaders and visionaries. P.S. ARTS’ commitment to preparing Teaching Artists to be social change agents is reflected in our rigorous, 40-hour per year minimum, paid faculty development program. This level of investment in Teaching Artist education is highly uncharacteristic for similarly-sized arts education providers. In spite of the obvious link between teacher effectiveness and program impact, it can be challenging for organizations focused on providing direct services to children to raise funds for adult professional development. P.S. ARTS is incredibly fortunate that several of our philanthropic partners, notably the Leonard Hill Charitable Trust, the Carl & Roberta Deutsch Foundation, and the Herb Alpert Foundation, share our commitment to ensuring that arts educators are equipped to provide all children with the creative tools they need to compete in today’s global workforce, make their voices heard, and innovate regardless of their race or zip code.

About 1 in 9 jobs in California, and 1 in 5 in LA County, is in a creative industry. Clearly, the lack of fair access to arts education in our state’s public schools has a significant impact on our young people’s academic and economic opportunity and overall wellbeing.

Acknowledging the role of the Teaching Artist in driving school improvement, and investing in their preparation and ongoing development, is a key factor to P.S. ARTS’ success. When public schools closed last March in response to the COVID pandemic, P.S. ARTS programs staff understood immediately that additional faculty development efforts were warranted in order to maintain program effectiveness during distance learning, and to provide displaced youth with an expressive outlet, emotional stability, and opportunities for meaningful social connections. Throughout the next year of stay-at-home orders, economic disruption, race-related violence, and civil unrest, P.S. ARTS made Teaching Artist development a top priority. We offered group and individualized training on using distance teaching platforms and creative digital media tools. P.S. ARTS also offered Teaching Artists support in revising their art, music, theater, and dance curricula for the virtual environment. In addition, P.S. ARTS faculty participated in anti-bias training, learned strategies for creating inclusive classrooms, and practiced centering the needs of youth of color and others experiencing a disproportionate degree of trauma and learning loss.

In the interest of continuous improvement, P.S. ARTS documented and collected data on Teaching Artist performance and student learning outcomes over the course of this very difficult year, including tracking the relationship between Teaching Artists’ social emotional instruction practices and students’ learning and wellbeing. We are proud to share our findings in the coming months in a special report pending publication and continuing the conversation with you – our partners and stakeholders – as we plan for the 2021-2022 school year. Stay tuned!

To learn more about our arts education programs please click here.

P.S. ARTSTeaching Artist Development is Key to Education Equity