Arts Research Monitor: Reports on Arts Education

In this issue: A focus on recent reports on arts education, including American summaries of the benefits of arts and music education, Canadian research into the relationship between music training and reading skills, a Quebec survey of the cultural activities of children and their parents, and a Canadian report on the labour market value of higher education.

Preparing Students for the Next America: The Benefits of an Arts Education
Also: Music Matters: How Music Education Helps Students Learn, Achieve, and Succeed

Arts Education Partnership, April 2013
With 40 citations from a range of sources, this brief bulletin provides a useful summary of research findings regarding the benefits of arts education. Indicating that arts education is key “to ensuring students’ success in school, work, and life”, the research bulletin concludes that “every young person in America deserves a complete and competitive education that includes the arts”.
Regarding preparing students for school success, the bulletin notes that direct arts learning and arts-integrated instruction “engage students and increase learning and achievement”. The research findings cited in the study show that arts education:

  • Boosts literacy and English language skills.
  • Advances math achievement.
  • Engages students in school and motivates them to learn.
  • Develops critical thinking.
  • Improves school culture. 

Regarding preparing students for workplace success, the bulletin indicates that “arts education develops thinking skills and capacities key to success in the 21st century workforce”. More specifically, arts education:

  • Equips students to be creative.
  • Strengthens problem-solving ability.
  • Builds collaboration and communication skills.
  • Increases capacity for leadership. 

Regarding preparing students for life success and community engagement, the bulletin points out that arts education:

  • Strengthens perseverance.
  • Facilitates cross-cultural understanding.
  • Builds community and supports civic engagement.
  • Fosters a creative community. 

With evidence from 23 music education research projects, a similar fact sheet from the Arts Education Partnership (Music Matters: How Music Education Helps Students Learn, Achieve, and Succeed) indicates that “music education equips students with the foundational abilities to learn, to achieve in other core academic subjects, and to develop the capacities, skills and knowledge essential for lifelong success”. More specifically, the bulletin shows that music education:

  • Prepares students to learn (by enhancing fine motor skills, preparing the brain for achievement, fostering superior working memory, and cultivating better thinking skills).
  • Facilitates student academic achievement (by improving recall and retention of verbal information, advancing math achievement, boosting reading and English-language skills, and improving overall academic test scores).
  • Develops the creative capacities for lifelong success (by sharpening student attentiveness, strengthening perseverance, equipping students to be creative, and supporting better study habits and self-esteem). 


Associations Between Length of Music Training and Reading Skills in Children

Music Perception, Volume 29, Issue 2, 2011
Authors: Kathleen A. Corrigall and Laurel J. Trainor (McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind)
This study examines “whether music training is associated with higher-level reading abilities such as reading comprehension” in 46 “normal-achieving” children between six and nine years of age. Thirty-five girls and 11 boys participated in the study. Previous academic research has not examined reading comprehension, focussing instead on skills that are more closely associated with music, such as auditory skills and word decoding (“how well children can sound out or pronounce individual words”).
The study finds that “length of music training predicted reading comprehension performance even after controlling for age, socioeconomic status, auditory perception, full scale IQ, the number of hours that children spent reading per week, and word decoding skills”. Unlike previous research, the study did not find a correlation between music training and word decoding skills.
As with all studies based on correlations, the association between music training and reading comprehension does not necessarily imply causality. In fact, as the researchers note, it is “possible, indeed quite likely, that children who are better readers, who are more intelligent, and who tend to work hard and persist on tasks ... are more likely to take music lessons” and to stick with lessons for a longer period of time.
Despite the lack of definitive proof, the researchers suggest that “music training teaches children self-discipline and attentional skills that help them concentrate for long periods of time”. The researchers point out that the relationship may, in fact, be bidirectional: children who start off with higher intelligence and persistence may be more likely to take music lessons and then may have their abilities strengthened by music lessons.
The authors conclude that “perhaps music lessons help children to become efficient learners who are able to focus better and concentrate for longer periods of time, which ultimately leads to important educational benefits”.

The Development of Children’s Cultural Practices in Quebec
(Le développement des pratiques culturelles chez les enfants)

Observatoire de la culture et des communications du Québec, Optique culture no 26, July 2013
Author: Gilles Pronovost, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières
The most basic conclusion of this report from Quebec’s cultural observatory is that mothers who read tend to have children who read. The analysis is based on the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development (QLSCD), a yearly survey of a representative sample of parents of children born in Quebec in 1997-1998.
The survey results show that “parental accompaniment is a major factor in the formation of the cultural, social, and sporting interests of children”. Parental activities that influence childhood reading include the mother’s reading activity before having a child and parents reading books to (and with) children at a young age.
The report examines differences in the cultural practices (especially reading activities) of girls and boys. In general, girls are more active in culture, while boys participate more in sports and play more video games. At all of the surveyed ages, a much higher percentage of Quebec girls than boys look at books or read on a daily basis. Similarly, many more girls than boys write or try to write on a daily basis. Part of the explanation for these gaps is that parents tend to read to (and with) girls more commonly than boys between four and six years of age. The report concludes that a lack of interest in reading has its roots in childhood behaviour and family environment.
What is not clear from the report is whether parental work activities have an influence on children’s reading behaviours or whether early childhood differences in reading and other activities have a relationship with school success. The report highlights these issues as areas for future research.

Degrees of Success: The Payoff to Higher Education in Canada

CIBC World Markets, August 2013
Authors: Benjamin Tal and Emanuella Enenajor
Based largely on 2006 labour force data, this report examines the earnings of university graduates in Canada. Overall, the report notes that “it pays to get a post-secondary education”, but returns to education vary by field of study.
For all university graduates at the bachelor’s level, average earnings are 30% higher than for high school graduates. At the low end of the scale, university graduates from fine and applied arts programs earn 12% less than high school graduates. Humanities graduates earn only 23% more than high school graduates. At the high end of the scale, engineering graduates earn more than double the earnings of high school graduates, while math and computer science graduates earn 86% more than high school graduates.
In addition to field of study, the report points to the relatively low earnings of highly-educated immigrants as a factor in the “narrowing premium on education”.
The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada has posted a “clarification” of the findings of the CIBC World Markets report ( Regarding the labour force outcomes of arts graduates, the Association argues that “the analytical and critical thinking skills graduates acquire through arts degrees are in demand and help grads adapt to changes in the labour market”.


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