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Benefits of arts education – evidence from the U.S

PCAH_Reinvesting_4web_0 pictureIf you’re needing to make the case for music or the arts in your school or organisation,Reinvesting in Arts Education – winning America’s future through creative schools, has proven useful recently for a few colleagues, so I thought I’d summarise some of the key findings here. It’s worth a fuller read, particularly the sections on the crisis in America’s schools, and the opportunity that arts education presents.*  “The narrowed focus on teaching the basics has clearly not been the answer”, the report says. Michael Gove, Leighton Andrews are you listening?

The Cultural Learning Alliance’s The Case for Cultural Learning: key research findings, published last year is also useful. They surveyed the most significant research studies from the UK and US (and only those with 12,000+ sample sizes) and the evidence is referenced around 5 key areas – attainment, cognitive development, academic achievement (getting a degree), employability, and citizenship (volunteering and voting).

Key messages about the benefits of arts education

Decades of research show strong and consistent links between high-quality arts education and educational outcomes, but learning is complex, and so the research doesn’t yet establish causal proof (ie do this activity in this way and you’ll raise SAT scores by this much). In the first chapter of the report, there’s a summary of the instrumental outcomes that leadership groups with an interest in education have identified as resulting from arts education, and they  the results of much of the research:

ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT – ie reading and maths performance, including transfer of skills learning from the arts to learning in other academic areas (eg spatial-temporal reasoning skills developed by music instruction)

MOTIVATION, ENGAGEMENT & ASPIRATION – improved attendance, persistence, focused attention, heightened educational aspirations, intellectual risk-taking

THINKING SKILLS/HABITS – problem-solving, critical and creativing thinking, dealing with ambiguity and complexity, integration of multiple skill sets, working with others

SOCIAL SKILLS – development of social competencies, including collaboration and team work skills, social tolerance, self-confidence

The research

A Longitudinal studies

1. Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning, Fiske, 1999, Arts Education Partnership and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities

A compilation of seven studies that show the link between high levels of arts participation and higher grades and test scores in maths and reading. Included the well-regarded Catterall study that first examined data from a longitudinal survey  of 25,000 students over 10 years.

“When young people are involved with the arts, something changes in their lives.”

The Catterall study in particular found that although higher income students were more likely to take part in the arts, all students including minority and low-income students, performed better in school and stayed in school longer than students with low involvement, and also:
– low income students involved in band and orchestra outscored others in maths
– low income students involved in drama were better at reading and had more positive self-concept

In 2009, Catterall followed up with these students, now in their mid-20s, and found that arts-engaged low income students are more likely than non-arts engaged to have:
– attended and done well in college
– obtained employment with a future
– volunteered in their community and voted

2. Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, Deasy (AEP) 2002
Report on 62 research studies focusing on cognitive capacities developed by arts learning, and transfer of skills to reading and maths. Also reported positive habits of mind, self-motivation and social skills including tolerance and empathy and positive peer interaction. Reports included:

Living the arts through language-learning: A report on community-based organisations, SB Heath (1998)
Students involved in arts ed for at least nine hours a week were four times more likely to have high academic achievement and three times more likely to have high attendance.

Community counts: how youth organisations matter for youth development, McLaughlin, 2000
Longitudinal study of the lives of youth in low income neighbourhoods. Those who participated in arts were more likely to be high academic achievers, to be elected to class office, and participate in a maths or science fair.

Staying in school: Arts education and New York City high school graduation rates, Dept of Justice, Israel, 2009:
★    participation led to decreased delinquency and drug use, increased self-esteem and positive interactions with peers and adults.
★    students experiencing success in the arts appreciate the results of effort and persistence and are more motivated to apply themselves to other learning tasks.

Creative Learning: People and Pathways, Dallas’ Big Thought Programme, Bransom et al, 2010
★    sustained engagement in fine arts gave high school students a substantial advantage in reading achievement
★    all students who participated in arts clubs/groups had an advantage in reading and maths achievement.

B. Arts integration/ cross-curricular arts / teaching through and with the arts

“Arts integration may hold unique potential as an educational reform model… studies have now documented significant links between arts integration models and academic and social outcomes for students, efficacy for teachers, and school-wide improvements in culture and climate. [it is] efficient, addressing a number of outcomes at the same time [and the gains are] school-wide, and also with the most hard-to-reach and economically disadvantaged students.”

“School-wide achievement gains have been observed when arts integration has been applied as a school reform and improvement strategy.”

1. Champions of Change, Fiske (see above) – arts integration produces better attendance, fewer discipline problems, increased graduation rates and improved test scores; motivates students who are difficult to reach and challenges the more academically successful.

2. Arts for academic achievement: What does arts integration do for students? Ingram and Raidel, 2003; Unspecified title, DeMoss and Morris, 2006 – arts integration improves reading in economically disadvantaged students and English learners.

Chicago Arts Partnership (CAPE) arts integration model research:

3. CAPE: summary evaluation, Catterall and Waldorf, 1999
– the 19 elementary schools operating the CAPE model showed consistently higher average scores on the district’s reading and maths assessment over six years, compared with other schools. There were also positive changes in school climate eg leadership, focus on instruction, teacher colleagueship, participation in decision-making.

4. How arts integration supports student learning, DeMoss and Morris, 2002 – arts integration supports student engagement in learning. Arts-integrated units consistently engaged students in complex analytical cognitive activity, including those who struggle with academic tasks. Students were not bored or discouraged, and showed interest in independent learning.

5. North Carolina network of A+ schools
(an education reform model based on arts-integration, incorporating Gardener’s theory of multiple intelligences, recent brain research findings, and dance, drama, music, visual art, creative writing). Research over 12 years showed:

★    consistent gains in achievement, engagement of parents and community and other measures of learning success
★     disadvantaged and minority students performed as well on state-wide reading and maths assessments as students from more advantaged schools
★    “This is doubly more impressive considering that while other schools have focused on basic skills in response to high stakes testing, the A+ Schools have achieved reading and maths gains without narrowing the curriculum.”

6. Oklahoma A+ schools research

Found that:
★    Students were more likely to find school challenging, interesting and enjoyable where A+ was embedded in school policy and daily practice, compared to those where arts was an add-on.
★    They achieved higher average results than other schools (according to state academic performance data) even though in North Carolina, the schools serve higher percentages of minority and economically disadvantaged students.

7. Study of arts integration schools in Montgomery County, Maryland
★    Rigorous evaluation design – looked in more detail than most studies.
★    Compared three arts integration focused schools (AIMS) and three control schools over three years.
★    AIMS schools substantially reduced the achievement gap between high-poverty minority students and other students.
★    The AIMS schools with the highest percentage of these students reduced the reading gap by 14% and maths gap by 26%.
★    The AIMS schools with the lowest number of students proficient in reading and maths achieved a 23% increase in the number scoring proficient.
★    79% of teachers said it had “totally changed their teaching” and given them “additional ways of teaching critical thinking skills”

C Brain research

1. Dana Foundation – cognitive neuroscientists in seven universities
Formal studies of the connection between arts training and academic performance using advanced techniques including brain imaging are finding that early arts education is a building block of developing brain function. Findings – which confirm earlier findings – include:

★    Music training is closely linked with development of the ability to hear and produce separate sounds (phonological awareness)– one of the most important predictors of early reading skills

★    Children who were motivated to practice a specific art form developed improved attention and general intelligence. Training of attention and focus leads to improvement in other cognitive domains

★    High levels of music training are linked with the ability to manipulate information in working and long-term memory

2. John Hopkins Neuro-Ed Initiative researchers (incl. Rudacliffe, 2010):

★    The brain prioritizes emotionally-tinged information for conversion to long-term memory. The rehearsal and repetition of information embedded in multiple domains may cause an actual change in the physical structure of neurons.

★    Arts integration, which emphasizes repetition of information in multiple ways, is likely to embed knowledge in long-term memory.

If you’re looking for further arguments for arts and culture in schools, I’ve summarised some of the key points from the report – including extensive quotes – in this downloadable document: Reinvesting in arts education – US report 2011 – summary.


  1. Links to Music and Health | bsharplyme on 21st April 2013 at 5:20 pm

    […] Benefits of Arts Education – Evidence from the US. A blog making the case for music and arts education in schools, giving evidence of the numerous benefits in acedemic achievement, social skills, motivation aspiration and engagement, thinking skills and habits. […]

  2. ayvinrogers on 21st April 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Thanks Anita for this blog. I’ve made a link to it in
    Regards, Ayvin

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