Date of Award

August 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Urban Education

First Advisor

Latish C. Reed

Second Advisor

Kimberly J. Cosier

Committee Members

Gail T. Schneider, Leigh E. Wallace, Thomas Joynt


Accountability Movement, Arts Education, Budget Cuts, Education for Social Justice, School Leadership, Urban Education


This case study explored perspectives of urban principals towards the values of arts education within the context of accountability coupled with economic strain, which has worked to undervalue arts education, and has impacted urban students' access to quality arts education (Chapman, 2004 & 2005). Since differences in access to arts education has been drawn along differences in ethnic, racial and socioeconomic status, this was understood as a social justice issue (Theoharis, 2007). Specifically, this research addressed the roles of principals and investigated the research question:

How do urban principals and school leaders perceive the value of the arts within a climate of accountability and financial strain?

Informed by critical theory, this question was supplemented by the following attendant questions:

1a.) How do urban school leaders make decisions about offering arts education at their schools?

1b.) What do urban school leaders consider when they make these decisions?

2a.) How are urban school leaders maintaining access to arts education within a climate of accountability and financial strain?

2b.) To what extent are urban school leaders who are maintaining this access aware of the relationships between arts education and social justice?

Qualitative sources of data were collected including transcripts, observation notes and analytical memos. Participants included six urban, high school principals and additional staff members from three of the high schools.

Findings revealed that principals believed that students who participated in arts education were engaged, were able to enjoy and escape from the rest of the school day, and finally, were able to express themselves. Principals who valued arts education were able to maintain access to arts education on limited levels. Their decisions were largely guided by evaluation requirements, available resources and tradition. Principals supported the accountability movement and felt their schools were improving; however, principals also revealed that providing quality arts education remained a major challenge and indicated a need for more to be done. Although principals expressed a concern with social justice issues, most did not indicate an awareness of arts education curricula as a means to engage students in critical thinking or social activism that could challenge the status quo.