Funding Issues & Teacher Expertise in Elementary Art Teaching: A Dynamic Relationship

Article excerpt

For the last two decades, teachers of elementary art in the U.S. consistently have identified funding issues-inadequate budget and other resources-as factors affecting their practice (Adelson, 1977; Chapman, 1979/82; Fong, 1998; Jeffers, 1996). In the nationwide survey, "Teacher Viewpoint." for example. Chapman (1979/82) found that 25% of the participating elementary art specialists saw "inadequate budget, supplies, resources" as a "problem" that most concerned them (p. 164). Similarly, 21.5% of the Kansas art teachers participating in a statewide survey 16 years later said that "funding" was the major issue they faced and were likely to face in the future (Jeffers, 1996, p.108). California's classroom teachers, who are primarily, if not solely responsible for elementary art teaching, also identified funding as a factor affecting them. In a 1976 statewide survey, Adelson found that 18% of these teachers said they had a problem with a "lack of funds" (p. 70). Twenty years later, 28% of the classroom teachers surveyed in Southern California said that funding was the factor most affecting their art teaching (Fong, 1998, p. 50).

That funding issues would affect classroom practice seems obvious, particularly when elementary art teaching, learning, and curriculum design traditionally have been based on media exploration and studio production. Mounting evidence, as well as common-sense wisdom, indicate that media usage and exploration typically depend on the amount of funds available to purchase art supplies, materials, and equipment (Fong, 1998). Moreover, media-based elementary art teaching in poorer school districts is more directly affected than in wealthier ones. For example, 86% of the teachers in a recently-- surveyed wealthy* district said their students used pastels, while in nearby poorer* districts, 42.6% of the teachers (averaged across three districts) said their students used them (Fong, 1998, p. 43). Teachers in the wealthier district reported their students used a variety of media in higher proportions than teachers reported in the three poorer districts (Fong, 1998). The implication, unfortunately, is that art is not so much taught (or "caught," as Eisner [ 1987] has suggested), as bought Or is it?

When teachers in these poorer districts recently were asked which factor most affected their art teaching, 31% said, understandably, "funding." Yet, 29% of them said "expertise" (Fong, 1998). In comparison, 17% of the teachers in the wealthier district said "funding," and 25% said "expertise" most affected them (p. 50). Interestingly, teachers in the poorer districts, as well as in the nearby wealthier one, said they most wanted an increased amount of expertise, rather than funds or time (Fong, 1998). Conventional wisdom holds that teachers' expertise-their knowledge of art, child development, curriculum, and their teaching experience- affects their practice. Ostensibly, those with more expertise are likely to be more competent and confident, and thus, more likely to rate themselves higher on their professional performance than those with less expertise. However, the teachers in the wealthier district, who had significantly less experience (fewer years teaching) and expertise (less preservice preparation and almost no inservice professional development) as compared with the teachers in the nearby poorer districts, nevertheless, rated their overall art teaching higher than their colleagues. On a scale of 1-10 (one being low, ten high), the teachers' self-ratings in the wealthier district averaged 6.6, as compared with an average of 5.37 in the poorer districts (Fong, 1998, p. 50). What explains this?

With respect to their effects on elementary art teaching, learning, and curriculum design, funding issues and teacher expertise seem to be tightly influential and intertwined in what appears to be a complex and dynamic relationship. In combination, their effects are both insidious and intense. The purpose of this paper is to explore the nature of and raise questions about this relationship, as it affects media usage, the enacted curriculum, and teachers' perceived performance in elementary art teaching. …