highlights from key national research on arts education

Champions of Change: Studies

Learning in and through the Arts: Curriculum Implications

Judith Burton, Robert Horowitz, Hal Abeles
Center for Arts Education Research, Teachers College, Columbia University, July 1999

"You are talking to someone who had very little to do with the arts before I came here. This has changed me enormously. I have an appreciation for the arts that I never had before. I have seen youngsters come through here who perhaps weren't as motivated, and I have seen them take off and fly because we pulled them into an art and opened up new avenues. I couldn't work anymore in a school that wasn't totally immersed in the arts."
(now former) Middle School Principal
Manhattan East (East Harlem)
Community School District 4
New York City

The study examined three questions: "What is arts learning? Does it extend to learning in other school subjects? What conditions in schools support this learning?" The researchers found "significant relationships between rich in-school arts programs and creative, cognitive, and personal competencies needed for academic success." (p.36)

Researchers studied 2046 children in grades four, five, seven, and eight in twelve public schools in New York, Connecticut, Virginia, and South Carolina. The students studied were determined by the researchers to have received either a "high" level of arts education or a "low" level by noting the number of years children had received in-school arts instruction and the range of different arts they had studied during this time. The students in the top quartile were called "high-arts" and those in the lowest quartile were called "low-arts."

Researchers studied students and school environments in schools that provided arts education in various ways: combining the arts disciplines with each other, integrating the non-arts curriculum with the arts, and teaching the arts in their separate disciplines. Various professionals taught the arts: specialist teachers, general classroom teachers, and external providers such as artists and performers from cultural institutions.

Researchers used various measures�some they developed specifically for this investigation (a Teacher Perception Scale, Classroom Teacher Arts Inventory, and the Student Arts Background questionnaire) and some previously developed by other researchers such as the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, the Self-Description Questionnaire, and the School-Level Environment Questionnaire.

Some of the findings from the report include:

  • More students who had received high levels of arts instruction earned high scores on measures of creative thinking than students with the lowest levels of arts instruction. Creative thinking includes various aspects of problem solving: how many ideas a student has in response to a problem, how original those ideas are, how detailed the ideas are, and the student's ability to keep her mind open long enough for innovative ideas to surface. The results were, "more firmly tied to rich arts provision than to high economic status." 31 to 41 percent of the high-arts students earned high scores on the five different creativity measures whereas only 11 to 17 percent of the low-arts students earned high scores on creativity measures. (p.38, 39, Figure 1)
  • In schools with strong arts climates, teachers and students both benefit. Teachers found students who had received high levels of arts training to be more cooperative and more willing to share what they had learned than students with low levels of arts training. "High-arts" students were better able to express their ideas, use their imaginations, and take risks in learning, as reported by teachers. High-arts students had better rapport with teachers and teachers in arts-rich schools demonstrated more interest in their work and were more likely to become involved in professional development experiences (81 percent to 38 percent). They were also more likely to be innovative in their teaching (81 percent to 38 percent). (p. 38-41, Figures 2 and 5)
  • Teachers noticed many positive qualities in "high-arts" students. Pupils in arts-intensive settings scored higher in teachers' perceptions of their abilities to express thoughts and ideas, exercise their imaginations, and take risks in learning. Teachers also described those students as more cooperative and willing to display their learning publicly. (p. 38-39, Figure 2)
  • High-arts students demonstrated more self-confidence about their academic performance. Students with the highest quartile of arts involvement were far more likely than their low-arts counterparts to think of themselves as competent in academics (41 percent to 18 percent). They were also far more likely to believe that they did well in school in general (36 percent to 19 percent), particularly in reading (40 percent to 20 percent) and mathematics (30 percent to 15 percent)." (p.40, Figure 3, p.41, Figure 4)

Learning in and Through the Arts: Curriculum Implications is one of seven major studies compiled in Champions of Change produced by the national Arts Education Partnership, the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the GE Fund, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.