In 2009, just 25 percent of Boston’s public high schools offered arts instruction to more than a quarter of their students. Only 10 percent of the city’s K-8 students received the twice-weekly classes experts recommend as best practice. District-wide, access to arts education was at best spotty and at worst nonexistent.
Dr. Carol Johnson, longtime musician and newly inaugurated superintendent, was determined to change that. During 2008 and 2009, her vision helped catalyze what would become the Boston Public Schools Arts Expansion Initiative, a multi-year, citywide effort to provide all students with equitable access to quality arts learning experiences. The cross-sector partnership quickly gained momentum, enlisting arts educators, community-based organizations, parents, government officials, and philanthropic institutions.
Working with coordination and tenacity, these diverse partners have achieved resounding success. The number of high school students receiving arts instruction has more than doubled since the project’s inception; the ranks of K-8 students enrolled in twice-weekly art classes have increased fivefold; and strategic philanthropic investment has leveraged a five-to-one increase in public funding for in-school arts education. BPS-AE’s work has broadened the school system’s arts learning opportunities to reach an additional 17,000 students—and because the effort was built by a wide range of invested community actors, its progress is sustainable.
The BPS-AE project is documented in a new report from the school change organization EdVestors, titled Dancing to the Top: How Collective Action Revitalized Arts Education in Boston. Underwritten by the Barr Foundation, the detailed case study both highlights an extraordinary instance of collective impact and offers resources for groups hoping to implement similar strategies in their own cities.