President's Message

What Is the True Value of Arts Education?

There is an emerging body of evidence that arts education is valuable both in building arts skills and in promoting academic, cognitive, and socio-emotional development. But that is not the popular perception. The more common belief is that art is an “extra” in schools that have precious little time or funding to devote to it. Spurred by the federal Race to the Top program, state and district initiatives are placing increased emphasis on educational strategies such as turning around low-performing schools, promoting teacher effectiveness, using data to inform instruction, and incorporating educational technology into core curricula—all of which seem to marginalize further the arts in the day-to-day lives of students.

With fewer “laboratories” in which to prove the worth of arts education, there are limited opportunities to conduct the kinds of rigorous and intensive evaluations of these programs that are needed to change minds and policies going forward. New York City offers among the few laboratories in which to test the value of arts education, and Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Department of Education deserve credit for defying the trend.

We at Metis are creating the tools needed to conduct some of the first rigorous and comprehensive evaluations of these arts education programs. These tools examine the quality of the art that is being produced, the mental habits students are acquiring through arts education, and the potential “transfer” of those habits to other subjects. In some of these projects, we’re also looking at whether there is an impact when arts teachers collaborate more with each other and with classroom teachers.

A new set of assessments (developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers—a 28-state consortium) will be introduced in 2014 to measure students’ attainment of Common Core State Standards. These standards have been developed to ensure that students are prepared with the relevant knowledge and skills they need for college and careers today and in the coming years. The assessments will require students to demonstrate the very kinds of skills that arts education promotes—skills that are not easily measured by more traditional ELA and math tests.

Early results of some of our studies support the notion that arts education does help students acquire certain habits of mind that are crucial to academic learning. And we can all attest to the value of arts-related activities as a means for tapping into self-expression. As tool builders and truth seekers, we will continue to hone the instruments that will inform the future of arts learning practice and policy. Our “In Focus” interview with our arts-evaluation leader Susanne Harnett explains how these tools are developed and describes the evaluations that will help to put arts in their proper place in the academic setting.

– Stanley Schneider, President