By Guest Columnist ANNE OSTHOLTHOFF, founder and CEO of ArtsNOW/Creating Pride.
We want our young people to think critically, creatively and demonstrate an ability to solve problems and communicate effectively in today’s workplace. To achieve that goal, then all school leaders should take note, assess their priorities and make sure the arts are central to their school improvement plans for student success.
The reasons are twofold: First, educational research in school reform proves over and over again that students who are engaged in the arts outperform students who are not. Secondly, it is a relatively low-cost first step for school administrators and faculty in helping teachers provide engaging work in the classroom that captures the attention of students.
As for the research, there is a wealth of information to draw from that can be found on a variety of websites including the Arts Education Partnership, the Colorado Department of Education and “Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning” hosted by The Arts Education Partnership and The President’s Committee on the Arts and The Humanities.
Just this week, Sandra Ruppert, a nationally known leader advocating for the arts in schools as director of the Arts Education Partnership in Washington, D.C., handed me one of the more recent studies by James S. Catterall.
In his new book “Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art,” Catterall reports on a longitudinal study of more than 12,000 students in secondary school through age 26.
The study cited in Catterall’s book concluded that, , “intensive involvement in the arts during middle and high school associates with higher levels of achievement and college attainment, and also with many indications in pro-social behavior such as volunteerism and political participation.”
In Ruppert’s own publication “How the ARTS benefit Student Achievement” published by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and the Arts Education Partnership in 2006, she also reports that “arts learning experiences play a vital role in developing students’ capacities for critical thinking, creativity, imagination, and innovation.”
Another “hard data” correlation in the 2005 study by the College Board reports that students engaged in more arts classes obtained higher SAT scores.I have also seen the research play itself out during the course of more than 16 years in classrooms here in Georgia and in Illinois, where I began my work in education. I have watched a teacher who initially hesitated to integrate the arts into the general science curriculum eventually experience great success (and dramatically improved test scores) after engaging her students in a collage activity to learn the parts of the human heart.
At ArtsNOW, our office took a call this spring from a school principal reporting that her entire school saw double digit gains in science scores as a result of school-wide implementation of arts integration strategies when teaching science.
Professional development with a team of teachers, arts specialists and administrators can make new things happen in terms of student achievement but only if they are equipped with training and resources to do so.
This can be done at relatively low cost because of the powerful dynamic of teachers training teachers. It costs less in the long run when we keep our arts specialists employed and use their expertise as part of a school team which must include the administrators and general classroom teachers.
I have watched as teams like this from all over the state attend foundational training as a school team to build their capacity to bring creativity and the arts into the general K-12 curriculum. I’ve watched as many of them subsequently return to influence their own local school faculty to teach in a more engaging way every day, all day long!
They regularly report higher student achievement, lower absenteeism and less discipline referrals. All it takes is a willing team, skilled professional development and resources to make positive change happen. That is a relatively low-cost option for getting something started.
By the way, I am not alone in reporting these observations – organizations all over the country doing similar work report similar results.
I challenge us all to pay close attention to the data, listen to the advocacy of educators and help to make the arts a regular part of every child’s learning. Since arts education has conclusively been identified as a best practice to help children acquire necessary skillsshouldn’t we act now to have arts now?
ArtsNOW/Creating Pride is an Atlanta-based nonprofit working to improve education for youth through the arts. For more information, visit www.CreatingPride.org.