Hill Strategies Reports on Arts Education

In this issue: Five important reports and resources examining arts education in the US, England and Australia, including evidence regarding the impacts of the arts for at-risk youth, the connection between childhood arts experiences and adult arts attendance, the impacts of partnerships between arts organizations and schools, ways to improve arts education in American schools, as well as information about an arts education research clearinghouse.

The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies
National Endowment for the Arts, March 2012

Based on four longitudinal datasets, this American report examines the association between in-depth arts engagement and academic or civic outcomes for at-risk youth. Most of the comparisons in the report are between children with either low or no arts involvement (“low arts”) and those with very high levels of arts engagement (“high arts”). Almost all of the results focus on children from households with lower socio-economic status (i.e., family income, parental education level, and parental job status).

Although different activities were captured in the four datasets, arts engagement generally included arts activities (whether in-school or extracurricular), recurring arts exposure, “service in an arts leadership position”, or “advanced placement coursework in the arts”.

The report notes that high-arts students fare at least as well as low-arts students on almost all indicators of academic achievement and civic engagement, and significantly better than low-arts students on a number of indicators.

Among academic outcomes, the researchers found that, compared with students with little or no arts exposure, high-arts students achieved:

  • Higher secondary school graduation rates.
  • Higher overall grade-point averages.
  • Slightly higher grade-point averages in math.
  • Higher test scores in science and writing.
  • Greater college aspirations.
  • Higher college enrolment rates and higher rates of enrolment in professionally-oriented programs.
  • Higher bachelor degree graduation rates and better grades in university.

Among civic outcomes, again compared with students with little or no arts exposure, high-arts students were more likely to:

  • Read books and visit libraries.
  • Read newspapers.
  • Participate in school government and school service clubs.
  • Volunteer.
  • Vote.
  • Participate in a political campaign.

Based on these results, the researchers concluded that “deep arts involvement may help to narrow the gap in achievement levels among youth of high versus low” socio-economic status.

The researchers caution that “the data in this report do not permit an analysis of causal links that might exist between deep arts involvement and academic and civic behavioral outcomes. All of the findings attest only to statistical correlations.” The researchers argue that more conclusive evidence should include research controls for factors such as the “disparate influences of home, school, family, and neighborhood; of gender, race, and ethnicity; of health and disability status, and a host of psychosocial factors”. In addition, the varying quality of arts instruction or exposure should also be taken into account.

Encourage children today to build audiences for tomorrow

Evidence from the Taking Part survey on how childhood involvement in the arts affects arts engagement in adulthood
Arts Council England, March 2009

This report examines the relationship between childhood arts experiences and adult arts participation, based on a survey of 13,500 English adults who were asked to recall their childhood arts experiences. Overall, the report found that “being exposed to arts events and encouraged to participate in arts activities when growing up indeed makes a positive contribution to the chances of people developing a life-long interest in and active relationship with the arts”.

Regarding being taken by parents to arts events, the survey results show that 22% of respondents were taken at least once a year. Another 16% were taken less than once a year, while 63% were never taken to arts events by their parents. Regarding being encouraged by parents to actively participate in arts activities, the survey shows that 18% of respondents were encouraged “a lot”, 24% “a little”, and 59% “not at all”.

The survey found that “parents of high social status are significantly more likely to take their children to arts events and to encourage them to participate in arts activities, as compared with parents of lower social status.” In addition, “parents are significantly more likely to encourage and foster arts engagement among girls than among boys”. Younger respondents were more likely than older respondents to report being taken to arts events and encouraged to participate in artistic activities.

The report found “consistent evidence of impact” of childhood arts experiences on adult attendance and active arts participation, even when taking other socio-demographic factors into account (e.g., education level, age, gender, social status). Interestingly, the survey results show that “the effect [of childhood arts experiences] on attendance is the strongest at the lowest level of education”. Among all respondents, however, the report found that overall level of education is an even stronger factor in adult arts participation than childhood arts experience (“but not by very much”).

The report indicates that further research is required “to fully understand the relative role and potential of the family, the school, peers, the media and other external agencies in the shaping of children’s attitudes, values and preferences when it comes to arts and culture”.

Partnerships between Schools and the Professional Arts Sector

Evaluation of Impact on Student Outcomes
Arts Victoria, November 2011

This evaluation document, as well as the accompanying literature review, examines the impacts of artist-in-residence and exposure-to-arts programs in schools and arts venues in Victoria, Australia. Data for the report were collected from “primary and secondary students, teachers, arts professionals and school leaders” using surveys, interviews, school documentation, and on-site observation.

The researchers conclude that “the school/arts partnership programs investigated had a positive impact on the five student outcomes”, which include student engagement, student voice, social learning, creative skills, and arts-related knowledge and skills. Findings from interviews and documents analysis were more conclusive in this regard than the attitudinal surveys of participants (which did not show a statistically significant difference before and after participation in the programs). The report provides details of the impacts for each of the student outcomes.

Regarding the characteristics of effective school/arts partnerships, the report highlights important aspects regarding each of the five student outcomes, including “relevant and purposeful content”, celebrating students as artists, “active student involvement in program design and planning”, strong community and parental involvement, “student choice in art-making”, “well-structured and mediated group work”, “creative approaches to generating ideas and problem solving”, as well as “regular exposure to and involvement in arts activities”.

Other important aspects include leadership and support within the school environment, a flexible approach from arts professionals, and active participation by teachers (alongside their students). Regarding the approach taken by arts professionals, the report found that “arts professionals approach learning and teaching differently to teachers. This is to be recognised and celebrated.”

Finally, the report highlights the fact that “creativity and creative skills appear to be complex concepts that all involved find difficult to define and discuss. This presents an opportunity for those involved in policy development in the arts and education sectors to develop shared understandings and common language about key concepts such as creativity, design and innovation as they apply to 21st Century skills.”

Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools
President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, May 2011

This American report examines the state of arts education, its benefits for students and classrooms, as well as potential improvements in arts education provision. The report argues that “building capacity to create and innovate in our students is central to guaranteeing the nation’s competitiveness”. However, the report found “enormous variety in the delivery of arts education, resulting in a complex patchwork with pockets of visionary activity flourishing in some locations and inequities in access to arts education increasing in others”.

 Given this situation, the report makes five recommendations designed “to clarify the position of the arts in a comprehensive, well-rounded K-12 education that is appropriate for all students; unify and focus efforts to expand arts education offerings to underserved students and communities; and strengthen the evidence base for high quality arts education”:

1. “Build collaborations among different approaches” (of arts specialists, classroom teachers, and teaching artists).

2. “Develop the field of arts integration” (i.e., learning through the arts).

3. “Expand in-school opportunities for teaching artists”, because “working artists in this country represent an underutilized and underdeveloped resource in increasing the quality and vitality of arts education in our public schools”.

4. “Utilize federal and state policies to reinforce the place of arts in K-12 education”. Policy guidance could help utilize the arts to increase the rigour of the overall curriculum, strengthen teacher quality, and improve lower-performing schools.

5.“Widen the focus of evidence gathering about arts education” via “systematic data gathering about the arts, specifically in developing creativity and enhancing engagement in school”.

Arts Ed Search
Arts Education Partnership, accessed October 4, 2012

 The focus of this internet-based clearinghouse is “on research examining how education in the arts – in both discrete arts classes and integrated arts lessons – affects students’ cognitive, personal, social and civic development, and how the integration of the arts into the school curriculum affects student learning and educators’ instructional practice and engagement in the teaching profession.”

Users of the site can search for desired reports or drill down into research results based on a matrix of topic areas across three main headings:

  • Outcomes of arts education (for “engaged, successful students” or for “committed, effective educators”).
  • Learning context (in-school or out-of-school).
  • Education level (early childhood, elementary school, middle school, high school, post-secondary education, or adulthood/lifelong learning).

The clearinghouse currently contains “summaries of close to 200 research studies, syntheses of the major findings of these studies, and implications of the collected research for educational policy”.

The site “builds on Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, a compendium of research that [the Arts Education Partnership] published in 2002 exploring the impact of arts education on student success in school, life, and work”.

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