Out of the Shadows: The Duke Ellington School of the Arts

Evelyn Collins, Fordham University


Peggy Cooper Cafritz and Mike Malone founded Duke Ellington School of the Arts (DESA) in 1974. DESA is a performing and visual arts magnet school serving students in Grades 9–12 located in Washington, DC. This study examines the historical factors that contributed to its creation and sustainability. The research design for the study was a historical case study, and it used four research methods: interviews with the founder of the school—Peggy Cooper Cafritz—alumni, former teachers, parents, and principals. It also analyzed documents related to the historical factors in DC during and after the founding of the school. Results of the study revealed four key findings that separated DESA from other premier schools of the arts. One of the key findings included DESA’s belief that talent was the key factor in student selection. DESA does not review grades or require assessments or entrance exams in its selection of students. This key factor separates it from other premier performing arts schools in this country where grades, entrance exams, and an audition are required for acceptance. Another finding revealed DESA’s selection of its school leaders and art teachers required that they were professionals in the arts community. This factor greatly contributed to the sustainability of the school and the acceleration of learning in the arts. This study serves as the first case study on one of the most premier, specialized performing and visual arts schools in the country. The implications for educators and policymakers denote a blueprint of excellence.

Subject Area

Performing arts education|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Collins, Evelyn, "Out of the Shadows: The Duke Ellington School of the Arts" (2019). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10978807.