By Madelynn Coldiron
Rachel Allen, arts education director for the Kentucky Arts Council, wants to set the record straight: arts education is learning about the arts and another subject at the same time.
“It is not stupid, fluffy art projects,” she said.
Allen, right, shared research on the benefits of arts education with attendees at a conference clinic. She cited studies contrasting student outcomes based on low and high socioeconomic backgrounds and high and low exposure to the arts.
One study found that students from low socioeconomic backgrounds who are participate in the arts have better grades than those who don’t, watch less TV and are more likely to volunteer.
Students at all levels showed the benefits of arts education, but the arts also helped reduce the socioeconomic achievement gap, she said. Over time, Allen said, kids with a higher participation in the arts achieve more.
A 2009 book by Dr. James Catterall, Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art, looked at national 12-year, longitudinal data on low socioeconomic-status students from ages 13 to 26 who participated in the arts and those who did not.
“He found that those students at age 20 were more likely to be involved in college, they would be more likely to get better grades in college and they would also be more likely to be doing volunteer work and they would also be more likely to be involved politically, like voted in the last election,” Allen said.
That work also showed that by age 26, the low socioeconomic students who had more arts classes from eighth to 12 grade were more likely to be employed, to have obtained a two- or four-year degree, and more likely to volunteer than students who didn’t take any arts classes.
Other data appear to show a general correlation between how much arts exposure student have had and their SAT scores. The more students are involved in the arts, the higher the verbal and math scores, Allen said.
“The research says, and your teachers in your schools say -- because they know from experience – that the arts help the kids learn, the arts engage the kids and we know that when the kids are engaged, the kids learn,” Allen told clinic attendees. “It’s about what’s best for the kids and I do believe what’s best for the kids is to put arts into their classrooms.”
A January survey of Kentucky teachers across a range of content areas showed 35 percent of them incorporated the arts into their teaching when it relates directly to the lesson; 22 percent integrated the arts several times a week; and 23 percent used it daily (though the majority of these were arts teachers).
They said they used the arts because it increases student engagement/expression, enhances content, addresses students with different learning needs, increases student comprehension and broadens their horizon.
The survey also showed that teachers don’t use the arts because of lack of time due to testing, because it’s not related to the curriculum and because they don’t know how to incorporate the arts.
However, most teachers surveyed also said they are interested in incorporating the arts more. They said they need lesson plans, resources, professional development and time, however.
Resources recommended by Allen: KET’s website, Summer Arts Academies at the Kentucky Center for Performing Arts (for teachers), Poetry Out Loud for high school students, the Kentucky Arts Council’s Artist-in-Residence program and various grants for teachers, and the council’s arts education consultants who work with schools to improve their arts program.