A new study from the Houston Education Research Consortium — a partnership between Rice University and Houston-area schools — has found an initiative to expand arts education in elementary and middle schools improved students' academic and emotional development, according to the consortium's website. The study, called "Investigating Causal Effects of Arts Education Experiences: Experimental Evidence from Houston’s Arts Access Initiative," was conducted by Dr. Daniel H. Bowen of Texas A&M University and Dr. Brian Kisida of the University of Missouri.
According to the study, which examined 10,548 students across 42 schools, students' art educational experiences reduced the proportion of those receiving disciplinary infractions by 3.6 percentage points, and it additionally improved students' writing achievement and compassion. The results also showed elementary school art programs boosted school engagement, college aspirations and arts-facilitated empathy.
The study's release comes amid fears that test-based accountability programs are, in turn, contributing to the decrease of arts programs in K-12 schools. As a result, the authors urge educators and policymakers to consider the importance of art when developing curricula.
Art programs have taken a hit as districts pour more resources into preparing students to take standardized tests and exit exams required for high school graduation, among other resources or initiatives. However, this study adds to the body of research that suggests letting arts programs go by the wayside may save money, but it won't help the students a school aims to educate. In fact, exposing students to art may be a very good investment when it comes to boosting both academic measures like test scores and long-term goals such as graduation rates.
A Media Planet article details the ways in which art helps students — and, more specifically, those of a low socioeconomic status — thrive. According to the article, only 4% of low socioeconomic status students who have high participation in the arts will drop out of high school, compared to 22% of those who have low participation with the arts. Art students in this group also do better in math, are more likely to hold a class office and be recognized for academic achievement, Media Planet reports.
The challenge, for many schools, is finding ways to fund these programs amid tight budgets and growing needs, including ed tech and other, newer resources. Budget cuts often leave little to no room for anything but the bare necessities. However, there are ways to fund these programs through grants and community programs. The National Endowment for the Arts, for example, can help connect educators with funding options.
Elementary music teacher Keira Quintero writes in a Huffington Post article that students who live in suburban areas have more access to art programs, while those living in smaller and rural districts have the lowest amount of access. With this equity gap, it is arguably important to push state lawmakers to take action to increase arts curricula availability. Policymakers in Illinois, for example, aimed to do just that: In 2017, a state bill in 2017 proposed distributing funds to the neediest schools first.