As part of its arts education plan, CPS has rolled out the district’s first-ever effort to rate schools on the quality of their arts programs and linked the ratings to arts funding of $500 to 750 per school.

But the ratings system likely won’t do much, at least initially, to help many schools, especially those in black or Latino communities.

Overall, one-third of schools were given an “Incomplete Data” rating, taking them out of the running for arts funding or for arts education grants that will be announced later this year. The schools were rated “incomplete” because they did not have an arts liaison in place or failed to complete a district survey on arts offerings.

Schools with the most African-American and Latino students were more likely to miss out on funding because of incomplete ratings. Just 11 percent of schools with white enrollment of at least 20 percent received such a rating. But 46 percent of predominantly black schools and 31 percent of predominantly Latino schools lost out on the money.

The same disparities appear in which schools got top ratings. Among schools with a substantial proportion of white students, 38 percent received the highest possible rating, but just one in ten predominantly African-American or Latino schools did.

Over the next several years, CPS wants to increase arts instruction to two hours a week for all students. The district says there are now only 55 schools without a full-time arts teacher. And next year, CPS has pledged to spend $21.5 million hiring new arts and physical education teachers.

A survey by the parent group Raise Your Hand found that two-thirds of 170 schools that were surveyed don’t offer the two hours of arts education each week touted by the district.

Providing support, mentoring

The goal of the ratings system was to provide schools with tailor-made support to improve their arts programs. Schools with incomplete ratings will get extra help to designate an arts liaison to help forge partnerships with outside arts organizations. Also, principals at schools that received the lowest ratings are supposed to receive mentoring on how to improve arts education at their school.

The ratings for both high schools and elementary schools are based on criteria that include the number of arts staff and whether the arts are part of a school’s plans for its budget, parent engagement, teacher training, interdisciplinary teaching and outside partnerships.

In addition, high schools are rated on the number of disciplines and levels of coursework offered. Elementary schools are also rated on the percentage of students who can take arts classes and how many minutes of instruction students receive per week.

Gale Elementary in Rogers Park was one of the schools that received an incomplete rating. Principal Cassandra Washington says she’s not sure why, but she thinks the retirement of the school’s art teacher – and the lag time in finding a new one – played a role.

“I know plenty of principals were trying to get the survey in on time, but it is something new. So there might not have been as much understanding as [the district] thought there was,” Washington says.

Washington says there is only enough money in her school’s budget to pay for a half-time art teacher, so only half of her students have art classes.

“We try to at least write grants or partner with organizations to get their services for free,” she says. CPS has sent resources on partner arts organizations to schools.

Raising the schools ratings will depend, of course, on resources. “If it’s based on the number of art teachers we have, that’s based on how much money we have,” she notes. “We can only buy as much as our money allows us to buy.”

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