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Central Texas High Schools Offer Many Arts Courses, But Are Students Taking Them?

Austin ISD has 35 unique arts courses for high school students. This bill board celebrating by Youth Art Month was designed by an AISD student in 2014.
Sam Ortega for KUT News
Austin ISD has 35 unique arts courses for high school students. This bill board celebrating by Youth Art Month was designed by an AISD student in 2014.

The Texas Cultural Trust has a new website that tracks arts education programs at school districts across the state. The map is one way the trust is encouraging parents and students to push for more art education in their local schools. There you can see programs broken down by elementary, middle and high schools in each school district. It looks at how many arts credits were earned by students, the number of art courses offered and the number of students per arts teacher. 

“Students who are involved in one or more arts class score up to 15 percent higher on standardized tests, they’re half as likely to drop out, they’re more likely to graduate and go to college and they attend, on average, an additional week of school each academic year," said Jennifer Ransom Rice, the executive director of the Texas Cultural Trust. "So it’s really engaging and keeping students in school.”

Ransom Rice says this data will help identify where there is room for improvement

“Where are there, for lack of a better description, arts deserts in Texas?" Ransom Rice asked. "What school districts have access to robust arts educations and which ones don’t?" 

The site encourages parents to contact their local school district or state representatives and ask them for more access to arts programs.

Looking at high schools in Central Texas School districts, most districts have more students per art teachers and offer more arts courses than the state average. Austin ISD offers 35 unique arts courses. That’s higher than the regional average which is 18 courses, while the state average is 14 courses.

But the data shows high school students in Central Texas are earning fewer arts credits than the state average.  So, just because the courses are offered, it doesn’t mean students are taking advantage of them.

Ransom Rice says looking at district data is not enough. It’s difficult to see if these art programs and art teachers are distributed equitably among all campuses.

“If your kid in one of these districts that scores above average but their school only offers marching band, that’s not an arts rich experience," Ransom Rice said.

For example, if a district offers an arts magnet, that can skew the data district wide. She says that’s what the trust will investigate next.


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Kate McGee covers higher education for The Texas Tribune. She joins after nearly a decade as a reporter at public radio stations across the country. She most recently covered higher ed at WBEZ in Chicago, but started on the education beat in 2013 at KUT in Austin. She has also worked at NPR affiliates in Washington D.C., New York City and Reno, Nevada. Kate was born in New York City and primarily raised in New Jersey. She graduated from Fordham University. Her work has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now, and The Takeaway.