Equity in Arts Education versus equity – what is the difference and why does it matter? I have seen a great graphic that demonstrates equality versus equity. The equality image shows a man, a boy, and a toddler all standing on crates of equal height behind a fence trying to watch a baseball game. The man, being the tallest, has the best view, the boy can just see over the top of the fence but the toddler is left trying to peer through a crack in the fence.
In the equity image, the man stands on the ground, the boy stands on one of the crates and the toddler stands on top of 2 of the crates stacked up so that all their heads are at the same height to comfortably view the baseball game over the fence. To me, it speaks to differentiation in the classroom and making sure that each student is being given the tools to help them access learning and the chance to succeed. What does that look like in practice in regards to education in a district and more specifically equity in arts education in a district?
I am proud to say that my district has adopted an ambitious Strategic Arts Plan to provide equity in arts education within 5 years but what does that actually look like? Someone created some graphics for the council in charge of implementing this plan that shows the disparity in access to the arts in the different schools. It was clear that music was the most widely accessible of all the art forms as it was provided in more of the schools and that dance was the least accessible. It was also clear that secondary schools provided more access to arts than elementary schools. I find that odd since elementary schools by their very name should be providing the basics in education that can then be built upon in middle and high school.
Ideally, we would love for every elementary school in the district to offer the same level of instruction in every art form but how realistic is that? Is there enough instructional time in the week given all that teachers need to teach? Do we have enough qualified art teachers in each discipline to meet that need? In general in this country, we have scales that are tipped. Ironically, the schools that have some of the best programs have families with the most means. So, children whose families who might be able to afford to provide them access to quality arts instruction outside of school often attends schools with more arts education. How much instruction can a public school be expected to provide?
But if we do want to even out the scales and make sure all students have access to the arts, where do we start? Do we group schools that are close together and offer a “wheel” of programming so art teachers in different disciplines rotate between the schools offering a different art form every quarter – music, dance, theatre, and visual art?
What about rotating through the week? Does that allow students enough time to access the art form? Does that allow the classroom teachers and the art teachers enough time to build a relationship that would foster quality arts integration? Does that allow for strong programs to be built in every school? Do we group the schools so that there is an arts magnet school in each geographic cluster for students and families who want to take advantage of all the arts and then provide all the other schools with at least one art teacher in one of the disciplines to teach at one school so the students in that school have an opportunity to really build on the skills in one area, the art teacher can build a strong program, and the teachers have a chance to build a solid working relationship to foster integration with that art form?
What about as the students to become more skilled and want to start to specialize at the middle and high school levels? Surely we cannot offer orchestra, band, marching band, jazz band, a mariachi band, chorus, show choir, ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary dance, acting, playwriting, theater tech, ceramics, metal working, painting, drawing, graphic arts, etc. at every school. Right now, schools are given the choice to provide different art programs and have to make choices based on their resources. Do different schools in geographic clusters get assigned certain art forms or programs based on their facilities to ensure students who live in an area can choose a school that offers the specialty in which they are most interested?
This attempt to provide equity in arts education brings up so many questions for me. If you have any ideas or answers, feel free to share. And as our district grapples with these issues, I will share any insights or solutions we may have. Here’s to equity!
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.