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Behind the Curtain Blog

NDEO's "Behind the Curtain" Blog features articles written by NDEO members about dance and dance education topics as well as periodic updates on NDEO programs and services. This is a FREE resource available to ALL.


Who Has Access to Arts Education in our PreK-12 Public Schools?

This might seem like a simple question, but in fact it is one that has plagued arts education advocates for decades. You might be surprised to learn that, even in today’s data driven culture, we have not had a way to accurately capture information about the arts programs that are offered in America’s public schools and the students who participate in them.

There are nearly 100,000 public PreK-12 schools in the United States employing just over 3 million teachers who are educating more than 50 million students according to the National Center for Education Statistics. We know anecdotally that many of these schools offer classes in the arts, including dance, theater, music, visual art and media arts. However, previous attempts to collect data about these programs and the students served faced unique challenges that often lead to an incomplete picture of the state of arts education in public schools. Historically, we have not been able to fully answer critical questions like:

  • How many schools offer arts programming as part of the curriculum?
  • Which artistic disciplines are offered in each school?
  • What grade levels receive arts education of any kind?
  • What artistic disciplines are offered at different grade levels?
  • In schools where arts classes are offered, are they required or offered as an elective?

This data is essential for supporting research, advocacy, funding, and equity efforts that will help grow the presence and effectiveness of arts education in schools. As arts education advocates, we need to know where we are so that we create the strategies that will get us to where we want to be!

Why is arts education data collection important to NDEO?

Photo of a large group of students dressed in all black, taking a dance class in a school gym.

At NDEO, we advocate for #DanceEducationForAll. We believe that dance is an important part of the arts education ecosystem, and that the arts, including dance, should be part of every student’s education. One important way to ensure that all students have access to a quality dance is to have thriving dance programs in PreK-12 schools. Advocating for dance as part of a comprehensive arts education is an important part of NDEO’s mission of advancing dance education for all.

Data is crucial to advocacy, especially in the arts. It is especially useful in persuading those who are not yet convinced of the intrinsic value of the arts. Personal stories about the benefits of arts education have their place in advocacy as well, but leaders in government and public policy tend to be moved by facts, figures, and statistics. The data is what convinces decision makers.

Not knowing where and how dance is offered in public PreK-12 education, or who is participating in dance classes offered through their public schools, makes our advocacy efforts difficult. We need to more fully understand the current state of dance in public schools, so that we can bring about our vision of equitable and accessible dance education for all.

The most recent government statistics available regarding the presence of dance in schools was collected as part of the 2008 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Arts Assessment. Due to the enormous challenges NAEP faced regarding data collection, this data is insufficient, in addition to being outdated. In 2016, NAEP assessed students again but only in music and visual arts, and only based on a nationally representative sample of eighth-grade students. Due to budget constraints and the small percentage of schools with dance and theater programs, these two arts disciplines were not included in 2016, nor are there any plans to include them going forward.

Enter the Arts Education Data Project (AEDP), a long-term initiative that gathers existing data from the states, rather than conducting new surveys. In addition, AEDP puts significant effort behind data analysis, transforming the statistics into usable, actionable information that can make a difference in advocacy.

What are the challenges of collecting arts education data and how does the Arts Education Data Project (AEDP) help?

Photo of a black boy in ballet class.  He is young, wearing a white shirt, black pants and black ballet shoes.  He has his hands on his hips smiling at the camera.

Collecting data about the current state of the arts, including dance, in public education is essential for more effective advocacy. And yet, the process of collecting, analyzing, and disseminating that data has proven quite difficult. The greatest challenge has been navigating differences in the ways that states collect and report such data. Not all states choose to report the data they collect on arts education in their schools. Moreover, the data each state chooses to collect is often varied and can be quite inconsistent. For example, one state may include elementary education in their collection, while another might not. Inconsistencies in what data is collected and how it is collected makes it difficult to weave one coherent story about arts education in the nation's public schools.

The Arts Education Data Project (AEDP) was designed to address the challenges associated with arts education data.​​ It is an initiative of the non-profit organization the State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education (SEADAE) and Quadrant Research. The goal of the Arts Education Data Project is to provide a “systemic, data-driven approach to understanding the current condition of arts education in the United States.” The Arts Education Data Project gathers arts education data reported by each state department of education, putting it into a standardized format, where it can be analyzed, compared, and disseminated for use in research, advocacy, and funding. According to the Arts Education Data Project website: “The ultimate goal of the project is for the data to be the catalyst to drive changes in arts education that will lead to increased participation for students across the nation.”

Why is the Arts Education Data Project (AEDP) important to NDEO?

The Arts Education Data Project (AEDP) will provide critical data about dance in PreK-12 education that will help NDEO in our future research and advocacy efforts. However, the impact of the AEDP will go beyond our own organization. NDEO maintains close partnerships with leading national arts education organizations, and we believe this unity makes us stronger. The Arts Education Data Project includes information pertaining to all art forms. This data will give us a much clearer picture of where and how the arts, including dance, are offered in public schools throughout the country. We will be able to compare the accessibility of dance in education to that of other art forms. With this information, we can address inequities in the availability of dance compared to other art forms, and develop strategies to create more parity among the art forms in terms of funding and student access.

For example, the Arts Education Data Project (AEDP) collected and analyzed 2018/2019 school year data from 17 states, containing 30,633 schools in 7,015 districts representing 17.9 million students or 35.6% of the nation’s PreK-12 student population. States included were Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

Based on the data from these 17 states, AEDP published this report, National Arts Education Status Report 2019, in September 2022. Of all the PreK-12 students in the 17 states surveyed, 96.1% had access to the arts (music, visual arts, dance, theater, or media arts) in their school, and 66.5% participated in some type of arts classes.

If you drill down into the numbers by arts discipline, you find that 83% of schools in those 17 states offered music, 83% offered visual arts, while 21% offered theater, 8% offered dance, and 10% offered media arts.

While schools may offer arts programming, not every student may be required to participate in the arts classes that are offered. Therefore, it is important to know what percent of the schools’ students actually participate in any of those arts classes: music at 53%, visual arts at 54.6%, theater at 13%, dance at 17.6%, and media arts at 11%. However, if you look at the total number of students in all the schools in these 17 states (17,934,402) only 483,977 participate in dance programs, or just 2.7%.

  • In schools that have dance programs: 17.6% of students participate in dance
  • Taking into account all the students in all the schools in these 17 states: 2.7% of the total number of students participate in dance

You can learn more about this data by reading AEDP’s National Arts Education Status Report 2019.

According to Bob Morrison, CEO of Quadrant Research and the Project Director of the Arts Education Data Project,

“The most important dance number for me is the uptake rate. In schools where dance is offered, more than 17% of students participate. When you look at the uptake rate in elementary school, it exceeds 75%. This means that lack of opportunity, not interest, is the barrier to dance participation.”

Currently the AEDP has 2020 data from 31 states – representing 65% of the total student population in the United States and will begin analysis at the end of 2023.

As we look at this data over time, we will be able to see where dance is thriving in education, and where access to dance in public schools is lacking. We will be able to use this information to support research, advocacy, and funding for PreK-12 dance education. For example, we can help disseminate research that examines the factors that allow dance education to thrive in certain states or school districts. We can direct our national advocacy efforts to benefit areas that are lacking in support for dance in public education. We can more effectively support our state affiliate organizations in their local and statewide advocacy, as well. We can consider partnerships and special projects that help build up dance in public education where it is just emerging, and keep established dance programs strong.

As a field, this data can have broad-reaching impacts. Researchers can design projects that help better understand the data and its repercussions. Administrators and educators can learn from and even potentially recreate successful program and district models as appropriate. Community and advocacy organizations can develop strategies to help grow the presence of dance education programs in public schools. The data will be instrumental to the success of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts of schools and programs across the country.

How does the Arts Education Data Project (AEDP) impact dance education beyond the PreK-12 sector?

If you are a dance educator in the PreK-12 sector, you likely understand how important and impactful this data will be. But no matter what area of the field you work in, you will benefit from the work of the Arts Education Data Project (AEDP). In-school dance programs are a vital part of the dance education community, and their impact ripples across the entire field:

  • Students who fall in love with dance in their school program often seek out further instruction at studios and in afterschool programs.
  • As part of their curriculum and outside of it, they attend dance concerts in their community and consume dance media including books, videos, and social media.
  • They might go on to attend college dance programs or pursue additional training after high school.
  • Students who study dance in public schools go on to become the next generation of dance educators, choreographers, performers, dance writers, dance medicine specialists, administrators.

No matter what career paths they choose, they can develop a lifelong appreciation for dance and become some of the field’s biggest supporters.

To ensure a vibrant future for the field of dance, we must come together to support dance in PreK-12 education. Together, we should prepare to meet challenges that lie ahead and ensure that dance and arts education remains central to every student’s well-rounded education. The Arts Education Data Project will help us do just that.


How can I learn more about data in dance education?

Special Topic Conference (STC) - What Data Can Do for You: Data-Driven Opportunities in Dance Education - February 24-25, 2024 (in-person) at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. More Info Here


Want more ideas on how to integrate dance into other K-12 subject areas?

Online Course - OPDI-115: Dance Integration: Re-envisioning the Creative Process - Begins on September 25, 2023 ~ 12 weeks long. More Info HERE


Head shot of Melissa.  She is white, with blond hair, and is wearing a colorful floral shirt.  The backround is a blue sky.

Melissa's dance journey began at age six in Houston, Texas. She honed her skills taking classes at various local studios, performing in several companies, and participating all four years in her high school's dance program as a student, leader, choreographer, and performer. These experiences fueled her passion dance and the belief that everyone deserves an opportunity to dance. Melissa earned a Bachelor of Business Administration and Marketing from the University of Texas at Austin and began her corporate career at Procter & Gamble which spanned thirteen successful years, focusing on sales, business development, marketing, and brand management. Amid her corporate accomplishments, Melissa maintained her love of dance taking adults classes when possible. After P&G, she continued to build her marketing and business development skills with several other companies. In 2006, she had the opportunity to study dance at the collegiate level at the University of Maryland College Park. It was here that she was introduced to the National Dance Education Organization and realized she could merge her business acumen with her passion for dance. She joined NDEO part-time in 2007 as the first ever NDEO Director of Marketing and Membership. Over the years, as the organization grew, her role expanded to include honor society programs, board initiatives, and online course development. Becoming Managing Director (full-time) in 2017, she now oversees NDEO internal operations of all programs and services. Melissa is a results-oriented, non-profit executive excelling in strategy execution in spite of human, financial, and logistical constraints that are so prevalent in the arts non-profit field. She's a creative problem-solver adept in program management, process design, data analysis, marketing, and communications. Beyond NDEO, Melissa lives with her husband and two golden retrievers in Maryland and enjoys spending time with her two young adult children, connecting with friends, gardening, home remodeling projects, hiking, and dancing any chance she gets. She/Her/Hers.

Photo Credits (from top to bottom): Karen Campbell Kuebler, Jennifer Lowe, Pinellas County Schools - Kelli Cardinal


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