MENLO PARK, Calif. – A landmark study from independent research institute SRI International, for the first time systemically examining the status of arts education in California, reveals that the vast majority of California’s schools fail to meet state standards for teaching the arts, and that access to arts instruction varies widely among the state’s schools.

The study, “An Unfinished Canvas, Arts Education in California: Taking Stock of Policies and Practices,” commissioned by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, was conducted by SRI’s Center for Education Policy. The Ford Foundation provided additional support for the study.  SRI’s research finds that most K-12 schools fail to meet standards that California established in 2001 for teaching the arts in four areas: visual arts, music, dance and theater. Until now, California has lacked comprehensive and reliable information to indicate whether these standards for arts instruction were being met.

Key findings of the study include:

  • 29% of California’s schools do not offer a standards-based course of study in any of the four arts disciplines-music, visual arts, theatre, and dance.
  • 89% of California’s schools fail to offer a standards-based course of study in all four disciplines, falling short of state goals.
  • 61% of schools do not have even one full-time equivalent arts specialist.
  • Standards alignment, assessment, and accountability practices are uneven in arts education, and often not present at all.
  • California students lag behind the national average in hours of arts instruction-up to 50% less in music and visual arts instruction at the elementary level.

A statewide survey of 1,800 randomly selected schools, case studies in 13 districts, analyses of statewide databases, and a policy and literature review were among the inputs used to inform the study results and recommendations.
“This important and unprecedented research will provide decision makers with solid data as they consider the future of arts education in California,” said Moy Eng, director of the performing arts program at the foundation. “High quality, sequential arts education does more than help develop a sustained interest in the arts. It fosters the ability of our students to think in new and creative ways.”

“Principals reported multiple barriers to arts education,” said Katrina Woodworth, Ed.D., SRI researcher and principal investigator of the study. “While many identified inadequate funding as the top barrier, most acknowledged that funding alone will not solve the deficiencies in arts education. In many schools, the focus on improving test scores means that schools are allocating the bulk of their instructional time for mathematics and reading at the expense of the arts and other core subjects.”

Added Woodworth, “Principals also noted that elementary classroom teachers often lacked the expertise to teach the arts and that arts specialists were in short supply. With the release of this study, we offer important recommendations to increase student access to arts education to the level envisioned by state policy-makers.”

State arts education funding was significantly increased in the 2006-07 state budget, including $105 million in ongoing funds for a new Arts and Music Block Grant Program; this amounts to less than $16 per student per year.  Woodworth noted, “The new funds are unlikely to be sufficient to support new staff positions.  However, the funding will provide critical support for districts as they establish the infrastructure to support arts education, provide teachers with much-needed professional development, and purchase materials and equipment.”

“The results of this study provide a needed wake-up call to lawmakers, educators, parents, and the public,” said Marshall Smith, director of the education program at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. “We know that arts instruction can benefit many aspects of a student’s life, including academic performance. It’s time we take real steps to ensure that all of California’s children receive a quality arts education.”

The state of California has used visual and performing arts standards in schools since 2001. Beginning in 2003, students seeking admission to either the University of California or California State University systems are required to have completed at least one full year of arts coursework in high school.

Full study results and methodology can be viewed at: or

About SRI International
Silicon Valley-based SRI International ( is one of the world’s leading independent research and technology development organizations. Founded as Stanford Research Institute in 1946, SRI has been meeting the strategic needs of clients for 60 years. SRI’s Center for Education Policy studies reforms that hold promise for improving the K-16 system of schooling and lifelong learning. The Center conducts research and evaluations on the design, implementation, and impact of educational programs, especially improvement efforts targeted at disadvantaged students.

About The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has been making grants since 1967 to help solve social and environmental problems at home and around the world. The Foundation concentrates its resources on activities in education, the environment, global development, performing arts, philanthropy, population, and makes grants to support disadvantaged communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. A full list of all the Hewlett Foundation’s grants can be found here.