School Day Policy Implications

Equity and Access

  • Access to Arts Education. Research suggests that access to arts education provides an academic advantage to students. Students in schools with extensive and broad offerings in the arts not only are able to learn the arts—a core academic subject—but also do better on state and district standardized tests and are provided with more opportunities to achieve and succeed than students in schools lacking robust arts programs. Arts-rich schools graduate higher percentages of students, who in turn are more likely to complete college and to be involved in their communities in adulthood. Studies also find that, in arts-rich schools—particular schools that offer both discipline-based arts classes and integrated arts instruction—students are more engaged and teachers are more effective. Policymakers concerned with educational equity should consider access to rich arts education programming as a significant factor in a high-quality education for all students.
  • Closing the Achievement Gap. Studies finds that arts education engages students who are often underserved in public schools, including students from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds and English language learners; that these students do better in arts-rich schools than in schools that do not have robust arts programs; and that they show the greatest relative improvement in academic achievement when participating in the arts. The more time they study the arts, the more pronounced are these effects. Studies further find that arts integrated instruction offers an alternative avenue for students to access and learn information in English language arts and mathematics and may be more effective than traditional remedial programs, thus offering a resource in helping to close the achievement gap. Teachers who integrate the arts into their curricula find that they are better able to understand and meet the needs of all of their students. Research suggests that policymakers should consider increasing rather than reducing the role of the arts in schools where an achievement gap persists between students from low-SES backgrounds, English language learners, and other student groups.
  • Turning Around Low Performing Schools. Research demonstrates that arts-centered school reform initiatives can engage students and teachers, improve school climate and culture, and connect schools to families and communities. These initiatives, several studies find, foster higher levels of student achievement as evidenced by scores on statewide, standardized tests, and in one case that arts integration provides advantages to students (in arts learning and cognitive, personal, and social development) while not detracting from more traditional indicators of student success such as achievement on state standardized tests. The research finds that arts education can also have a valuable effect on teaching, renewing the excitement that teachers feel for their profession and preventing the teacher burnout that is endemic to low-performing schools. Arts partnerships often provide additional resources to schools that have inadequate funding or that lack access to the cultural advantages of more affluent schools, providing additional leverage in areas of high need such as inner city urban and rural schools. These findings suggest that policymakers include arts education in any programs designed to turn around low-performing schools.

College and Career Readiness

  • Twenty First Century Skills. The research base suggests that arts education develops a set of skills and capacities closely aligned with those that policymakers and education leaders believe are necessary for success in the 21st Century. These skills include critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, innovation, communication, and collaboration—skills key to tackling the intellectual and professional challenges students will face in high-tech environs. They also include the social skills and capacities necessary for citizenship in an increasingly plural society and global world—including empathy and cross-cultural understanding. Taken together, the significant body of research connecting arts education to these key skills and capacities recommends that policymakers include the arts as they craft strategies to help public schools graduate college and career ready students.
  • Student Engagement and Motivation. Multiple research studies spanning the education system from pre-kindergarten through high school suggest that arts education develops in students the engagement, attention, motivation, and persistence necessary to succeed independently in college and careers. Sustained attention and engagement in learning or in completing tasks are vital skills for college and the workforce, when students are left more to their own devices to complete work and succeed at discrete projects. That arts teach students how to turn barriers into opportunities, to persist in the face of challenges, and motivate students to achieve mastery of skills should receive consideration from policymakers when they develop strategies to ensure that every child who graduates is ready for success in college and career.
  • Deep Learning. Policymakers and education leaders have called for new curriculum standards that require more creativity, deeper levels of cognitive engagement, and more robust connections to real-world contexts. This requires teachers to think about teaching and learning in more complex and different ways. The student outcomes identified throughout the research in ArtsEdSearch are evidence for the deep learning that occurs when students participate in high quality learning in and through the arts. The research suggests that arts education helps students develop the critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and communication skills; initiative; and mastery of core content knowledge at the heart of deep learning and closely linked with college and career readiness and success. When reshaping the education system to support deeper learning, research suggests that policymakers can benefit from engaging discrete and integrated arts education as vehicles for deeper learning, and from building on the possibilities presented by arts integrated instruction for making the deep learning environment opened in the arts available to other disciplines.

Academic Achievement

  • Literacy and Language Development. A significant body of research demonstrates that arts education helps students, especially English language learners (ELL), learn and refine language and literacy skills—skills necessary to understand all forms of communication, including written, spoken, and image-based modes. A body of studies identifies particularly strong connections between integrated drama and English language arts instruction and students’ acquisition of early and advanced literacy skills. Taken together, these studies recommend that policymakers embrace integrated drama and English language arts instruction among their tools for helping all students develop literacy skills.
  • School Readiness. Certain emotional, behavioral, and cognitive skills are necessary for students to be able to learn and function effectively in school (National Association of School Psychologists, 2004). When these skills are not developed at home (often linked to high levels of poverty) students begin school at a disadvantage and may have an even harder time reaching proficiency benchmarks, beginning a pattern of low achievement. Studies find that arts education assists in preparing students for success in school by developing early language abilities, social skills, self-regulation of behavior, and sustained focus and attention. This is turn suggests that policymakers could better serve students by to including the arts when developing strategies and services to prepare students for learning in school and to ensure equity among students from different backgrounds.

Highly Effective Teachers

  • Teacher Retention and Engagement. With increasingly more teachers retiring, coupled with the departure of nearly half of new teachers from the field within their first five years of teaching, public schools face significant challenges in hiring and retaining highly qualified teachers. Studies show that teachers in K-12 schools who integrate the arts into their curricula find their teaching becomes increasingly dynamic and effective and as a result are more engaged in and satisfied with their teaching. Teachers report that these shifts have helped them resist burn out and recommit to the teaching profession. In one study, when arts were infused in the whole school, researchers found teachers decreased their rates of absenteeism. These findings suggest that policymakers explore the role that arts integration can play in initiatives and programs that target teacher retention.
  • Professional Development for 21st Century Teachers. Teachers need to equip students for success in the 21st century, but to do so they need to be given knowledge, skills and confidence to use the arts to effectively stimulate creative thinking and deep learning for young people. Arts-based professional development that provides long-term, in-depth arts learning for teachers has proven an effective means for building teacher self-efficacy and confidence. Professional development needs to build teachers’ skills and knowledge in the arts, provide strategies for integrating arts into the curriculum, and offer opportunities to learn about how to use the arts to reach all learners. Professional development for in-service teachers is particularly effective when it involves artists, community, cultural and university partnerships. Pre-service teachers also benefit from in-depth arts instruction in their academic studies, mentorship and access to ongoing arts-based professional development once they are in the field. Policymakers should work with educational leaders to ensure arts-based professional development, inclusion of artists and building of community, university and cultural partnerships happens across districts.