The Cleveland Arts Education Consortium is pleased to share this final report following the implementation of a Community Arts Audit with the Cleveland Municipal School District in 2004. The Audit, based on a model developed by the Kennedy Center with the assessment questionnaire developed locally by the Consortium, provides a comprehensive assessment of the place of the arts, in the classroom and beyond. Through it, we were able to recognize the strengths of the current arts education program and identify opportunities for the future.
What follows in this report are the perceptions, based upon individual experiences, of students, classroom teachers, principals, district administrators (called policy makers throughout the report) and parents of how the arts function in the educational experience of children throughout the district. Thus, this is not an inventory of services available; rather, it is a report about respondents’ own perceptions about the importance of arts integration in the educational process and its availability in the classroom.
Despite the broad range of respondents’ answers on the questionnaires, some clear conclusions are evident from the data. In general, the parents, teachers, administrators and students believe strongly in the impact that arts integration and the arts have on youth and families in CMSD. A significant number of respondents believe strongly in the degree of benefit that arts education has upon all students. Building bridges to issues in diversity, providing and enriching all senses, and reaching at-risk students are each as important as the other in improving individual, school and community achievement. Students are fortunate to have access to some of the arts disciplines.
Notwithstanding this fundamental conviction that the arts are a key educational tool for reaching out to students, the survey shows that problems exist in the areas of communication about what services are available to both students and teachers, and the actual delivery of those services. The most striking disparity occurs when comparing responses of the parties about their knowledge of a comprehensive arts plan for the whole district; as one progresses further down the line from District headquarters, information about the presence of such a plan diminishes. While certainly pointing out the presence of several communication lapses, this conclusion is not necessarily a negative finding. Indeed, in this time of significant budget cutting, it is reassuring to find a problem that can be solved internally with little or no additional investment of capital expenditure.
Another conclusion that can be drawn from these findings is the need to better integrate our areas’ rich cultural offerings into classroom experiences for both teachers and students. In short, this means additional support for both professional development for educators and direct experiences for students, either through field trips for concerts, plays and museum visits or artist in residence activities. It is important to note that securing funding for busing students to area cultural events continues to be an integral component for providing these direct experiences.
Among the different arts areas, music received the highest rating in availability, programming, and actual experience; it has the advantage of a long history within the schools. It became clear from the responses, however, that theatre provides some unique benefits for students which are currently lacking as the result of space and technical expertise limitations.
The need for continued professional development for both general classroom teachers and arts specialists was indicated in the responses from educators. General classroom teachers need to be made aware of the many opportunities which exist for them: lesson plans developed by the education staffs of our areas leading cultural institutions, professional development workshops, and field trip opportunities throughout the community with follow up educational activities which build upon the direct experience.
In sum, the arts appears to be a key component in a comprehensive educational experience for students, K-12. Survey respondents overwhelmingly believed that parents need to be involved and would do so with better access to transportation and support from District staff. Cultural institutions and community arts based organizations could help through a better system of information and access. And continued professional development for all teachers would provide lasting impact and cultural change within schools.
Despite the need to improve arts education accessibility through improved communications and additional resource development, the benefits they confer upon both students and teachers alike make these challenges well worth meeting. As public scrutiny of our public education systems grows, increased student confidence, creativity and academic performance pays dividends that extend beyond the classroom and into the community.
We, as a Cleveland Arts Education Consortium, look forward to participating in this drive towards excellence.