The arts and education reform: Lessons from a four-year evaluation of the A+ schools program, 1995-1999. (Executive Summary of the series of seven Policy Reports Summarizing the Four-Year Pilot of A+ Schools in North Carolina)

Nelson, C. A. (2001). The arts and education reform: Lessons from a four-year evaluation of the A+ schools program, 1995-1999. (Executive Summary of the series of seven Policy Reports Summarizing the Four-Year Pilot of A+ Schools in North Carolina). Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts, Winston-Salem, NC.1

Abstract:

The A+ arts integrated school reform program was initially a four-year pilot program in 25 North Carolina schools, spread across the state. Its focus was on identifying and documenting ways that the arts can contribute to comprehensive school change. Although the program included partnerships with cultural agencies and teaching artists, the program emphasized arts instruction provided by certified classroom and arts teachers. This study is one of several reports from an evaluation of the program. It found evidence that the program makes significant contributions to student learning, teacher effectiveness, school culture, and community involvement.

Key Findings:

The study found evidence that the arts contribute to the general school curriculum, learning for all students, school and professional culture, educational and instructional practices, and the schools’ neighborhoods and communities. It is important that these contributions extend beyond what most arts in education programs promise.

Significance of the Findings:

The early evaluation of the A+ program took on added significance as the model was replicated to other states. Moreover, the evaluation employed research practices that can be used in other innovative school programs, allowing flexible analysis that is particularly appropriate because each site presents a unique set of instructional, social, and policy variables that would be missed by a single methodology. Both the evaluation methods and findings can inform future research on student-centered and deep learning environments.

Methodology:

The research employed varied and multi-focused data collection methods, including the following:
  • Profile surveys of all A+ schools, parent surveys, student surveys, partner surveys, interviews and focus groups.
  • Focused case studies in 10 schools, abbreviated studies of all A+ schools, test scores.
  • School-based data from individual “case study" schools that in turn included meeting observations, observation of classroom instruction and performances, guided tours of neighborhoods and communities, shadowing of classroom and arts teachers, document collection (meeting agendas, curriculum materials, planning webs, newspaper articles, budgets, newsletters, and school improvement plans), and documentation of research findings and feedback meetings.
  • Interviews with program supporters and state policymakers, and observations of regional meetings and training sessions.

Limitations of the Research:

The findings are weakened somewhat by inconsistencies in the individual school programs, specifically in the treatment of the arts in the sites. This unevenness limits the degree to which causal explanations can be substantiated.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What are the causal relationships between the A+ model and the detected outcomes? How effective is the A+ model when implemented in other settings?

1The text of this summary is adapted from the Arts Education Partnership’s 2002 research compendium: Deasy, R. J. (Ed.). (2002). Critical links: Learning in the arts and student academic and social development. Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership.