The Role of California’s County Offices of Education and Implications for Arts Education

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Benge, C., Woodworth, K., Klute, M., Fields, X., Zamora, M.C., Rulifson, Levin-Güracar, E., & Jimenez, C. (2022). The role of California’s County Offices of Education and implications for arts education. SRI International.


With support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, SRI Education conducted a statewide study examining the role County Offices of Education (COEs) play in supporting arts education in California. This study follows a 2007 study of arts education in California, An Unfinished Canvas, and its recent 2020 update, Creativity Challenge. A key finding of the updated study was an increase in the degree to which schools rely on COEs to support arts education.  

This study describes the COE role in arts education, examines how COE activities have shifted in response to California’s Local Control Funding Formula, and examines how these changes may affect access, participation, quality, and equity in arts education in K-12 schools. The goal was to inform county leaders and arts education stakeholders at all levels of the education system as they continue their efforts to expand access to arts education as envisioned in the California Arts Standards and called for in the California Education Code. 

Specifically, the SRI study team sought to address the following research questions:  

  • How has the role of COEs changed over time?  
  • How does the state’s arts education infrastructure support COE arts activities? What local infrastructure supports COE arts activities?  
  • What COE arts activities help build district capacity for the arts? How many COEs participate in these?  
  • What other COE activities offer opportunities to improve arts education? 

To address these questions, the study team conducted gathered information at the state, regional, and local level by conducting interviews, collecting and reviewing planning documents, and fielding a survey of COE arts leads. 

Overall, study findings point to COEs as a critical piece of the arts education ecosystem and reveals disparities in COE capacity, mostly based on COE size. Furthermore, because arts education is largely left out of the state’s accountability system, we found variation in the degree to which arts leads are included in strategic planning and budgeting decisions. Additionally, it was found that COE arts leads and court and community school administrators are siloed from one another. This siloing likely contributes to the lack of access to arts education in COE-run court and community schools (described in Creativity Challenge: Arts Education in California’s Court and Community Schools). 

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