Arts Education in the South Phase II: Profiles of Quality


Research Abstract
Arts Education in the South Phase II: Profiles of Quality

In response to the need for regionally relevant data about access and quality in arts education, South Arts initiated a two-part study in its constituent states. Arts Education in the South, Phase I: Public School Data and Principal Perspectives summarizes the results of surveys distributed to approximately 15,000 principals in K-12 public schools throughout the southeast region. These surveys asked school administrators to respond to questions about access to arts instruction, arts instructor qualifications, resources and partners in arts education, principal perspectives on arts education, and general school data.

For this second phase of the inquiry, South Arts partnered with the Southeast Center for Education in the Arts (SCEA) to develop and implement a series of case studies of dance, drama, music, and visual art programs in K-12 public schools. Exemplary programs were studied in order to provide high quality models and insight for policy development in the region. The question driving this phase of the research was “What are the traits of quality in-school arts education programs in the South?”

State arts councils/commissions in the region were invited to nominate programs from their schools that have been, for a variety of reasons, described as high quality. 31 nominations were submitted to SCEA from seven states: Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. SCEA and South Arts chose programs for inclusion in the study to represent the best diversity possible based on the following considerations:

  • Geography – At least one program chosen from each participating state and showing dispersal throughout the southeastern region.
  • Art Form – At least two programs were sought in each of the four art forms (dance, music, theatre, and visual art).
  • Grade Level – Programs were sought representing students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.
  • School Focus – The research team considered school programs with a traditional school environment and those identified as having an arts focus (magnets, charters, etc.)

Nine programs were selected for analysis:

  • Dance
    Pine Street Academy, Spartanburg, SC Northwest School of the Arts, Charlotte, NC
  • Drama
    Bradley Academy, Murfreesboro, TN Owensboro High School, Owensboro, KY
  • Music
    Casey Elementary, Jackson, MS Wando High School, Mt. Pleasant, SC
  • Visual Art
    Windsor Hill Arts Infused Elementary, North Charleston, SC Drew Charter School, Atlanta, GA Bob Jones High School, Madison, AL

To dig deeper into how quality appears in these programs, we adapted the issues addressed in Phase I. For Phase II, the issues we used as lenses for our examination of each site were access, teacher quality, resources, assessment, school culture, and curriculum. Case studies of participating sites were developed through an analysis of publicly available documents and artifacts, observations of instruction by SCEA researchers and local observers, in-depth interviews with stakeholders (including arts specialists, administrators, students, parents, non- arts teachers, and community partners), and focus groups of stakeholders. Our comparative analysis across programs yielded findings that we categorized into four answers to our research question:

Among high quality in-school arts education programs in the South...

  1. Relationships matter. Among the programs studied, we found welcoming affective environments in classrooms, strong collaborative cultures among faculties, students, and administration, and strong connections to the community.
  2. The arts are part of a shared vision/mission. There is diversity of visions and missions among the programs we examined, but within each there is a common understanding of the purpose of the arts program and strong support for that purpose among the teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders who lead the work.
  3. The arts are core. The arts have long been described as core curriculum in name, but appear so less often in practice. Among these programs, there is strong evidence that the arts are regarded as worthy of the same time and attention that other content areas receive. That includes clearly articulated curricula, authentic assessments, and strong pedagogy in the art form.
  4. Students experience the working worlds of artists. The programs at these schools not only provide knowledge and skill in the arts, but also expose students to the practice and working world of professionals who use those skills outside the school. [Executive Summary]

The south arts education study part two, focuses on describing the nature of successful arts education programs in the region, rather than statistical analysis that was done in the south arts education study part one. Case studies were the primary source for the concluding recommendations. The aim of the report was to look at quality from the ground up. The report found a need for strong supportive principles, collaborative work, and community partnership, when building successful arts education programs in the south. It also stressed the need for capable arts staff, who were motivated to build positive community partnerships. Relationships are key to creative successful programs within the region of the south.


Baxley, Joel; Burgess, Susanne; Melnik, Laurie; and Nesbit, Marissa.

South Arts
1800 Peachtree Street, NW, Suite 808
GA, 30309
United States