Art is Essential: In yesterdays’s Sunday Review (08/21/16) of the New York Times, Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers wrote about how art is essential and not an extra. She also noted that in this era of high-stakes testing, narrowing of the curriculum and reduction of arts offerings, all students are losing out on benefitting from learning in and through the arts. “Everyone needs the arts,” but especially for,
…at-risk students who have access to the arts, the advantages are striking: They tend to have better academic results, including being 10 percent more likely to complete a high school calculus course and three times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree. And they are more civically engaged, with higher levels of volunteering, voting and engagement with local or school politics. (Sunday Review, New York Times, 8/21/16)
Arts Integration: Our study of arts integration (Southworth et. al., 2016, Measuring the Effect of the Arts on Academic Achievement in Disadvantaged Populations) in Rochester NY, a two-trial, randomized treatment and control design, looked at the effect of arts integration on K-6 students who were 92% at-risk.
This rigorous experimental research design shows that Rochester’s RAISE Model succeeded in integrating arts strategies through elaborated residencies that built the capacity of regular teachers and students to increase student achievement in disadvantaged populations. The evidence of this model’s arts integration effectiveness can be seen qualitatively during the residencies, observations, interviews and teacher surveys and quantitatively in the Common Core New York State testing (Measuring the Effect of the Arts on Academic Achievement in Disadvantaged Populations, executive summary).
Arts Integration Supports Mental Stretching: In our seven-year research study of the effect of arts integration on student achievement in Rochester, NY, several factors were identified that appear critical to the success of arts integration (see schoolworkslab.org, under “research,” Southworth et. al., 2015, executive summary). The critical impact factors provide explanations for the success of student learning where .40 effect sizes were attained in each trial and where professional development was very successful. These factors contribute to and/or provide evidence of the Rochester RAISE Model’s impact on teachers and students: This research found that it is possible to develop significant arts integration with disadvantaged urban populations through “mental stretching” (Gardiner, 2000, p. 72). The arts skills are not so much transferred as they are over-lapped—and integrated, in a deliberate effort to improve performance. The active acquisition of arts skills overlaps the needed subject skills such as elaboration and oral production and the student’s brain uses mental stretching to integrate the arts skills into regular classroom work.
Job-Embedded Peer-to-Peer Professional Development: Of the 612 teacher surveys received and analyzed over the four-year RAISE program (Measuring the Effect of the Arts on Academic Achievement in Disadvantaged Populations, executive summary), 78.9% of treatment teachers and 79.3% of control teachers indicated wanting future PD sessions to help improve their ability to integrate the arts (even though control teachers were unable to participate in the RAISE Program PD sessions). It was a complete surprise to find that control teachers were also eager to participate in PD focused on arts integration and made specific requests for what they wanted.
Student and Teacher Reform: I agree with Randi Weingarten that, “we need substantial and ongoing investment and commitment at every level—federal, state, district and school,” because art is essential and not an extra, but also because it benefits students and teachers. One of the most forgotten strategies in school reform is developing and supporting the learning relationship between students and teachers. High-stakes testing and teacher evaluation are reforms that can isolate the two players that must be united behind any school reform for it to work.
Summary: Job-embedded professional development that is centered around peer-to-peer teacher learning where teaching artists successfully collaborate with regular classroom teachers resulted in disadvantaged students stretching their skills and mentally integrating those skill sets into their regular classrooms with an average 40% increase in student achievement.
Could we do this for every teacher and every student?