Daniel H. Bowen and Brian Kisida, “Investigating Causal Effect of Arts Education Experiences: Experimental Evidence From Houston’s Arts Access Initiative,” Houston Education Research Consortium 7, no. 4 (2019): 1-28.


The researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial with 10,548 students in third through eighth grade who were enrolled across 42 schools. Participating schools were assigned by lottery to receive substantial influxes of arts education experiences provided through school-community partnerships with local arts organizations, cultural institutions and teaching-artists. Study findings provide strong evidence that arts educational experiences can produce significant positive impacts on student academic and social success. For students in elementary schools, which comprise 86 percent of the sample, we find that these arts educational experiences also significantly improve school engagement, college aspirations and arts-facilitated empathy.

Key Findings:

  • Discipline: Findings show a 3.6 percentage point reduction in students receiving disciplinary infractions.
  • Writing Achievement: There was a slight increase in students’ standardized writing test scores.
  • Compassion for others: There was a slight increase in students’ compassion for others, as measured through student survey responses.
  • There were consistent, positive and more pronounced treatment effects with three subgroups: Elementary school students, students with limited English proficiency, and students who are considered to be gifted and talented. These included significant positive impacts on school engagement and arts-facilitated empathy for these three subgroups. The study also found positive impacts on college aspiration for elementary students and students with limited English proficiency.

Significance of the Findings:

This study is the first large-scale, randomized controlled trial of an arts education program implemented in an authentic educational setting. This study provides strong causal evidence to suggest that substantial increases in arts learning opportunities produce significant positive impacts on students’ educational outcomes. In addition to their intrinsic benefits, the arts benefit students in terms of social, emotional and academic outcomes. Policymakers can consider the multifaceted educational benefits highlighted in this study when assessing the role and value of the arts in K-12 schools in their decision making.


This study was a cluster randomized controlled trial with 10,548 students in third through eighth grade, who were enrolled across 42 participating schools. The mentioned grade levels are related to the students included in the main analyses for this study. All schools were included in the Houston Independent School District and student demographics were: 70% Latinx, 24% African-American, 86% eligible for free or reduced lunch, and 29% receiving limited English proficiency services.

Limitations of the Research:

  • There is uncertainty with how well these findings generalize to different contexts (e.g., rural, suburban schools) or with schools where principals were not as enthusiastic about an arts intervention (i.e., when the treatment was randomly assigned). The treatment and control groups consisted entirely of schools with principals who opted to participate in this initiative.
  • From this evaluation, it is difficult to determine, whether, and, if so, which aspects of this multifaceted initiative were more or less critical for bringing about results. Treatment schools had a great deal of discretion in their arts program selections, which led to substantial variation in what types of programs students received.

Questions to Guide New Research:

  • Is there significant variation in the educational effects that stem from the formats and arts disciplines of school-community arts learning experiences?
  • Do effects from earlier arts education interventions have longer-term impacts (e.g., secondary and postsecondary school engagement)?