Greene, J.P., Kisida, B., & Bowen, D.H. (2013). The educational value of field trips. Education Next, 16.


The school field trip has a long history in American public education. More-advantaged families may take their children to these cultural institutions outside of school hours, but less-advantaged students are less likely to have these experiences if schools do not provide them. In this randomized-control study, students were afforded the opportunity to take a field trip to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas. Students were surveyed on multiple items including assessing knowledge about art as well as measures of critical thinking, historical empathy, tolerance, and sustained interest in visiting art museums.

Key Findings:

The main findings in all four priority areas (critical thinking, historical empathy, tolerance, and interest in art museums) surveyed showed positive gains for all demographic subgroups in the treatment group.

Students in the treatment group could recall specific details about paintings between 70 to 88 percent of the time depending on the subject.

Scored essays showed an improvement on critical thinking skills from just one visit to Crystal Bridges.

Overall, participating students, especially rural and high-poverty students, exhibited higher levels of tolerance than students who did not participate.

Similarly, participating students showed greater interest in visiting an art museum than those who did not. This was particularly true for rural and high-poverty students.

Significance of the Findings:

This first-ever, large-scale, random-assignment experiment of the effects of school tours of an arts museum provide an understanding the impact even a single educational field trip can have on student growth. School and district administrators can use the findings to justify the inclusion of arts-based educational field trip over so-called “reward” field trips without educational value. Also, these findings can support the inclusion of arts-based educational programs when policymakers are crafting state policy.


Researchers used the applications to a new school tour program at Crystal Bridges Museum to study the impact of participating in field trips. For the first two semesters of the program, the museum received 525 applications from school groups representing 38,347 students in kindergarten through grade 12. Researchers created matched pairs among the applicant groups based on similarity in grade level and other demographic factors. Within each pair, researchers randomly assigned one to be in the treatment group and one to be in the control group. Students in the treatment group participated in a museum tour that semester while students in the control group had their tour deferred. Researchers administered surveys to 10,912 students and 489 teachers at 123 different schools three weeks, on average, after the treatment group received its tour. Some groups were surveyed as late as eight weeks after the tour, but it was not possible to collect data after longer periods because each control group was guaranteed a tour during the following semester as a reward for its cooperation. There is no indication that the results reported faded for groups surveyed after longer periods.

Limitations of the Research:

The effects identified in this study may not be generalizable outside of the state/region around the Crystal Bridges Museum. Also, due to the nature of the experience, it is possible that the results may not generalize to other museum programs or non-museum field trip experiences.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How can this study’s randomized control study be applied in other arts education contexts? Are these programs educationally beneficial enough to supplant other enriching programs? Can these effects be generalized to other states or regions? Is it possible to have the same or similar results with a traveling exhibit or in-school presentations?