Boston Foundation report examines state of arts education in Boston Public Schools

New research reveals inconsistency, recommends system-wide planning to make the best use of existing resources

February 12, 2009

Boston –A report containing new research about the state of arts education in Boston was released today at an Understanding Boston forum at the Boston Foundation. Titled The Arts Advantage: Expanding Arts Education in the Boston Public Schools , the report provides a detailed picture of current offerings in the schools as well as a set of recommendations advanced by School Superintendent Carol R. Johnson , who has called for a greater commitment to equity and quality in arts in school, even as the current economic crisis is forcing cuts in schools budgets.

Also at the forum, a new $1.5 million Arts Expansion Fund was announced to support the implementation of the recommendations of the report. Of that amount, already $1.1 million in pledges has been received.

“The arts are an integral part of a successful and rigorous education,” said Johnson. “They expand young imaginations, spark creativity, strengthen a commitment to learning and serve as a compelling introduction to the cultural diversity that enriches this city.”

The Rev. Gregory G. Groover Sr., Chair of the Boston School Committee discussed the issue in the context of the economic climate.

“In the current economic climate, with our schools facing possible reductions in arts and other areas, we need our non-profit partners and local arts organizations to assist us in reaching our vision of a high-quality arts education,” said Groover. “It will take all of us working together to ensure that Boston Public Schools students receive a well-rounded education that includes robust experiences in the arts.”

The report charts current strengths and gaps in arts education and calls for greater consistency against established benchmarks to measure progress toward integration of arts in school programs at every level. Among the key findings of the report:

  • While fully 70 percent of BPS students receive some type of arts instruction during the school day, access to arts varies greatly by grade levels, with high school and middle school students less likely to receive adequate amounts of arts instruction.
  • The proportion of students who receive arts instruction once a week for a full year drops from 76 percent for students in kindergarten through fifth grade and 81 percent for students in kindergarten through eighth grade to just 48 percent for students in middle school.
  • Only 25 percent of the city’s high schools report offering any arts instruction to more than 25 percent of their students.
  • Only 5 percent of elementary school students and 6 percent of middle school students achieve what experts describe as the “best practice” of twice weekly, year-long arts instruction.

“The talents and aspirations of every child in our city have to be supported to prepare them to serve as future workers and civic leaders, said Paul S. Grogan , President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “The Superintendent’s call affirming arts education as a powerful tool to that end is one we should heed.”

Joining the Boston Foundation in preparing the report was EdVestors, a local nonprofit organization that seeks to drive change in urban schools through strategic private investment. Additional support was provided by the Barr Foundation, the Hunt Alternatives Fund and the Linde Family Foundation, in collaboration with the Boston Public Schools.

Among the findings of the report: Massachusetts is one of only four states without an arts education mandate, and one of only 10 states in the country that does not have a high school arts graduation requirement. This stands despite the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993, which identified arts as a component of the core academic curriculum, and provided extensive details about how arts should be deployed to meet the needs of students. In addition, district standards for arts instruction were articulated by the Boston School Committee in its comprehensive Arts in Education Policy, which has not been consistently staffed or funded.

Boston’s robust nonprofit arts and cultural sector contributes significantly to strengths in arts instruction, according to the report. More than half of Boson schools cite at least one outside partner providing arts education during school hours, while almost 40 percent of BPS schools listed at least one partner providing out-of-school time arts education instruction.

Report recommendations

The report makes four recommendations to address the current lack of consistency and equity across the system as a whole, and includes strategies for measuring progress made, going forward. These include:

  • Expand access to arts education across all Boston public schools, beginning with grades Kindergarten through grade eight. The report calls for an initial three-year goal of getting 100 percent of all students through grade eight to the initial benchmark of once weekly, year-long arts instruction by 2012.   
  • Increase district capacity to better coordinate partnerships and to support the expansion of school-based arts programs.
  • Convene a new, high-level  BPS Arts Advisory Board, appointed and chaired by the Superintendent, to provide guidance and oversight to the arts expansion efforts.  
  • Launch a new arts expansion fund to raise a minimum of $1.5 million in three years in private philanthropic funding to complement public funds.

Significant progress has already been made on the recommendations. In addition to commitments amounting to more than $1.1 million of the $1.5 million Arts Expansion, a new Arts Advisory Board for the Arts Expansion Initiative has met for the first time. The Board, which is chaired by Superintendent Johnson, includes representatives of area foundations, the business and civic sector and area media organizations. Among the members are Paul  Grogan , President of the Boston Foundation; Julie Burns , Director, the Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism and Special Events; Swanee Hunt , President, Hunt Alternatives Fund; Michele Corton Brown, SVP at Bank of America; Steve Seidel , Director of Project Zero and Arts in Education program, Harvard University Graduate School of Education; State Rep. Marie St. Fleur, Vice Chair, House Committee on Ways and Means; and Michael Tooke, a founder of Boston Leaders for Education, a group of business leaders formed to advocate for further education reform.


The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the nation. In Fiscal Year 2008, the Foundation and its donors made close to $79 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of $113 million, bringing its assets to $838 million. The Foundation is made up of some 900 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes. The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, provider of information, convener, and sponsor of special initiatives designed to address the community’s and region’s most pressing challenges. For more information about the Boston Foundation, visit or call 617-338-1700.