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A By-The-Numbers Approach to Exploring the Arts in Charters

Date: 04 May 2021

This photo depicts a person with medium-length dark brown hair who is standing in the foreground with a canvas set on a light brown wood easel. The person is in a white, translucent full smock to cover clothing and is wearing a pair of virtual reality goggles while actively painting. In the blurred photo background directly behind the painter is a person using a smart phone to record the painter’s experience. At the left edge of the photo in the blurred background, another person is standing in front of a long wooden table with bench seating. This person appears to be holding a book. The room is well-lit and suggests an open, airy atmosphere.
Photo by Billetto Editorial on Unsplash

In the 2018-19 school year, nearly 175,000 pre-K-12 students attended a charter school with a curricular focus in the arts. These charter schools offer a variety of course tracks across arts disciplines (dance, media arts, music, theatre and visual arts), as well as integrated approaches, including STEAM education. Of the more than 7,500 charter schools and campuses in the United States, over 400 focus their curricula on the arts – the third most implemented, specialized curricular focus following STEM and language immersion.

Many charter schools provide a curriculum that includes arts education and may also provide supplemental courses and extracurricular activities that extend arts learning. Arts-focused charter schools center their curriculum on arts education, including discipline-specific and arts-integrated experiences to expand students’ knowledge and skill sets and prepare them for careers in the arts.

The following numbers provide a broad look at current access to arts education in charters and the breadth of curricula options for states and districts considering policies related to opening or enhancing arts-focused charter schools.

The Arts in Charters: By Discipline

Forty-four states, including the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico, have policies specific to charter schools. Through the semi-autonomous governing structure of charter schools and state policies, charter schools have flexibilities to design and implement robust arts education programs and create environments that foster arts learning.

Course tracks can look different across arts-based or arts-themed charter schools, and schools may integrate the arts with other academic subjects or provide a focused concentration in the arts.

Here’s a breakdown of how some of the nearly 400 arts-focused charter schools engage students across arts disciplines.

80 Schools Offer Music.

What can this look like?
South Carolina’s Allegro Charter School of Music provides music instruction as an independent focus and integrates music education, and other arts disciplines, across its curriculum. Students engage in classes in different music genres and participate in multidisciplinary projects.

How can states support access to arts education?
Through enacted policy, students in South Carolina who attend charter schools can participate in interscholastic or extracurricular activities in the arts at other charters or public schools.

68 Schools Offer Performing Arts in Dance and Theatre.

What can this look like?
The Learning Foundation Performing Arts School in Arizona, provides art, dance, film, music and theatre classes; and secondary courses align with the Arizona Career and College Ready Standards.

How can states support access to arts education?
Students attending schools in Arizona can receive recognition for attaining a high level of proficiency in the arts if their charter school participates in the State Seal of Arts Proficiency Program.

62 Schools Offer Visual Arts.

What can this look like?
A college preparatory school, Colorado’s CIVA Charter High School offers visual arts courses across mediums and requires all students to take a visual arts course.

How can states support access to arts education?
Charter schools operating in Colorado are not exempt from laws related to standardized testing, and Colorado is one of 12 states that has assessment requirements for arts education.

13 Schools Offer Media Arts.

What can this look like?
New Mexico’s Media Arts Collaborative Charter School offers project-based courses and helps to prepare students for future career and higher education pursuits in media arts.

How can states support access to arts education?
New Mexico provides state-funded Arts Learning in Schools grants to K-12 schools, including charter schools, to provide students with opportunities to participate in the arts both during and after school hours.

Interested in learning more about these schools or know about great arts education work taking place at charter schools in your communities? Please reach out to Cassandra Quillen.

*This blog post shares school numbers from research currently being completed by researchers at Harvard University and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.


Title: 2280 Pasos Bajo un Cielo Nublado | Artist: Hernán Jourdan | Medium: Film

When I was asked to create a work of art exploring literacy, I wanted to create a dance but I had no dancers or a studio, so I chose to use my own body in the space I had, my yard. Fluent Nature is video of micro-choreography that explores what cannot be expressed with words, how nature has its own language, and how placing the human body in nature changes the story.

Title: What Is Me and What Is Not Me | Artist: Alex Chadwell | Medium: Music

My thinking on arts and literacy centers around the concept of literacies and artmaking as both sense-making and meaning-making processes that organically and inevitably overlap, intersect, and reciprocate. Compositionally, What is me and what is not me is a sound collage of sorts (there is no notation for the piece, and I'd be hard pressed to recreate it accurately) that abstractly and aurally represents the relationships between literacies and artmaking.

Title: A Curious Honeybee | Artist: Gideon Young | Medium: Film

Offering welcome through traditional and digital elements of literacy, A Curious Honeybee provides an experiential learning environment by activating visual, musical, natural, and emotional literacies.

Title: Tercera Llamada | Artist: Karilú Forshee | Medium: Audio

La Carpa Theatre is a project that I am currently directing in the Detroit Latinx community. The project aims to strengthen and uplift youth voices through devised theatre, in the style of the Mexican Carpas. This audio was created in the theatrical environment envisioned for our project. The ways in which literacies are re-defined are at the heart of La Carpa Theatre's mission.

Title: Literaseas | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite and ink on paper with digital edits

Title: A Riddle | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits

Title: False Binaries | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits