The Arts and Education Equity


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This is a guest blog post by Laura Smyth, Program Director, Title I Initiative, California Alliance for Arts Education.

The California Alliance for Arts Education is in its fifth decade of making the arts a core part of every child’s education across the state, by providing policy expertise and mobilizing a statewide network of advocates and allied partners. 

We’ve spent the last six years working on our Title I Initiative, and building and sharing resources to help schools understand how the arts can play a powerful role in achieving success for vulnerable students.  Making the arts part of a Title I strategy – using federal funds designed to raise the achievement of students living in poverty – brings the arts to the center of the conversation around education equity, and gives us the language to express the unique role the arts can play in student success and school turnaround.

Federal Title I policy allows schools and districts to include arts education in their strategies to achieve Title I goals. However, the Alliance found a lack of clarity about whether and how the arts could play a role in Title I, preventing schools and districts from including arts education in their Title I strategies, or at least deterring them from doing so publicly.

The intent of the Alliance’s Title I Initiative, therefore, was to develop a policy pathway—a shared understanding aligned across school, district, state and federal levels of leadership regarding what is allowable when it comes to expending Title I funds on arts education. This pathway, when fully activated, breaks barriers to entry for implementing proven, and is effective programming for the most under-resourced students.

The components of the pathway developed as follows:

  1. Clarifying state policy and its relationship to federal policy. At the state and federal level, the Alliance secured letters and citations underlining that embracing arts strategies in support of Title I goals was both permissible and desirable.
  2. Aligning school and district practice with state and federal guidance. Working with the California Department of Education, the Alliance developed a diagram based on federal and state guidelines to direct school leaders through the rigorous year-long planning process.
  3. Connecting programs to research. Using the Arts Education Partnership’s research clearinghouse, ArtsEdSearch, the Alliance showed a large and existing body of research supporting the effectiveness of arts-based strategies.
  4. Building resources and communication. Based on regional meetings with county and district leaders, we developed, an online resource detailing the Title I planning cycle, with resources, as well as short films outlining aspects of the work.
  5. Creating a distribution and training network for policy pathway. Since 2015, the Alliance, in partnership with the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA), has worked with a cohort of regional and district arts leaders in county and district offices of education to pilot the implementation of the policy pathway and track schools and districts that adopt the work. Additionally, the Alliance committed to documenting and supporting the work of early adopter districts like San Diego Unified, whose groundbreaking $3 million Title I Initiative proved to be a powerful learning laboratory.
  6. Expansion to other states. In fall 2015, the Alliance partnered with the Arizona State Department of Education and Arizona Citizens for the Arts to develop a ‘sister’ website to,, demonstrating that the home site can be easily adapted to the needs of other states.  We are working with New Jersey and Minnesota to create partner sites that will launch in 2017, and have worked with Massachusetts to organize and deliver regional meetings around the state.

When we began the conversation nearly six years ago, it was a small eddy in a pool.  We now see that wave expanding to include more than 40 schools and districts committed to including arts education in their Title I strategies, in addition to the work we doing with other states, who have seized on our groundwork and begun their own initiatives. And now that the Every Student Succeeds Act  established the role of the arts in a well-rounded education, we hope the wave will only continue to grow. We hope to see you this week in San Diego at  Education Commission of the States 2017 National Forum on Education Policy or to connect in the coming months about how to use Title I for arts education in your schools or districts.

The California Alliance for Arts Education Title I Initiative is featured as part of the AEP Success Stories Initiative, which will continue to illustrate ways in which the arts are leading the way to student success across the country. Be sure to subscribe to the Arts Ed Digest and follow us on Twitter to learn more about the importance of creating, maintaining and expanding access to arts education for all students. 

Laura Smyth, Program Director, Title I Initiative, California Alliance for Arts Education

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