Seattle Schools' Goal: to Create Arts Education for Everyone

Marion Herbert's picture
Thursday, March 29, 2012

Seattle school officials are using a $1 million grant to try to craft a comprehensive, K-12 arts curriculum — something that the district hasn't had in decades, if ever.

Kate Baker has gotten used to the screams and squeals that greet her every day.

Baker holds a near-celebrity status at Beacon Hill's Maple Elementary for a simple reason: She's the art teacher.

"They're always so excited," the 31-year-old said after a recent school day. "They want to know if they have art that day. Because they get joy from it."

Despite her popularity with students, Baker — like other art teachers across the city, state and country — fears her job may not exist next year. Amid budget cuts and an all-consuming focus on raising math and reading test scores, the arts have increasingly been pushed to the side despite their demonstrated academic and social benefits.

In Seattle, where a tradition of delegating decisions to individual schools holds sway, students' access to the arts varies widely — and often depends on parent fundraising.

"If your school has money or if you have a principal who's a real proponent of the arts, then you get it," Baker said. "And if you're not in one of those two groups, then you don't."

More than 20 percent of the city's public-elementary schools fall into the latter category, according to an internal school-district survey that will be released next month. About half of middle- and high-school students are enrolled in an arts class, according to the survey.

In general, white students in wealthy areas are more likely to have access.

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