From the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), a non-profit based in the UK, a research paper entitled, “Impact of arts education on the cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes of school-aged children. A review of evidence” by Beng Huat See and Dimitra Kokotsaki, Durham University.
Just so ya’ know, this was not a study of the arts but a study of 199 other studies.
From the foreword (emphasis is mine throughout, my comments are in parentheses):
“Our understanding of how the skills we develop through arts activities can be transferred to other areas of learning is not straightforward. It’s undoubtedly the case that, as the report notes, integrating arts in the school curriculum introduces fun into lessons, and that, in turn, leads to students experiencing greater enjoyment. What is a lot less clear is if or how that enjoyment necessarily results in better learning. The report concludes that, though there are promising leads, at the moment there just isn’t enough robust evidence to be able to demonstrate a causal link between arts education and academic attainment.”
(Ummm…if going to school is fun then kids will want to go to school. Duh.)
“…the wider attainment gains sometimes claimed for arts education are not as clear-cut as we might like them to be…if the arts are to be taught as a means to boost academic achievement then teachers and schools need to evaluate carefully whether that aim is actually being delivered….(Wait for it…) …this is especially important for those schools using their Pupil Premium funding – public money intended to help disadvantaged pupils to catch up with their peers – to pay for arts activities.”
(So much of what’s going on with the arts in schools comes down to the cost; does anybody remember the old bumper stick that said something along the lines of “let’s use our tax dollars to pay for schools and have a bake sale to fund the government”? I wish I knew how to change the priorities but I know the FIRST step is an email to those who were elected to do just that. You can do just that HERE and HERE . Nope, no political views expressed in here, express yours to the folks in those lists).
“…the current state of the evidence-base linking arts education and attainment is weak…Of course, the absence of evidence is not the same as the evidence of absence.”
(Clever turn of a phrase there but I like the message, even though it’s a bit on the subtle side.)
“Being clear eyed about the current state of the evidence on arts education enables us to reflect critically on what we want from our schools and why we engage in the work we do. In my view, schools should still find space in their day to ensure all children benefit from a stimulating arts education. We should continue to investigate links to other outcomes we value, but we shouldn’t expect everything to link tightly to academic attainment. Instead, we should teach the arts for their own sake – for the intrinsic value of learning creative skills and the enjoyment they bring – while at the same time doing our level best to ensure our children and young people leave school with a good level of literacy, numeracy and scientific curiosity.
In this respect, all schools should be art schools. – Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation.”
(Amen to that.)
And now the summary, which waffled a bit…
“The review found no convincing evidence that demonstrated a causal relationship between arts education and young people’s academic and other wider outcomes.”
“There were a few interventions that showed evidence of promise. Music…shows promise across all age groups.”
(Worthy of note is the fact that music was considered as a single entity with no separation of or consideration of the difference between playing an instrument and singing. It’s just a generic “music”.)
“The evidence for integrating multi-arts for primary school children is weak largely because the positive studies found were small scale (under 100) or lacked randomisation.”
(Then what’s the point? And no, you can’t bust their chops on the spelling, that’s how the English spell randomization. It’s an across-the-pond thing.)
“For successful implementation, professional training of teachers is needed on how to effectively integrate the arts activities be it drama, visual arts or music in the classroom.”
“There is some suggestion that the mechanisms or factors that contribute to the learning processes in most arts education are related to elements of enjoyment, engagement and …the effect of dramatic art on acquisition of history knowledge was mediated by enjoyment, which in turn, predicted future performance on standardised tests.”
(See “school is fun” back at the beginning and yes, same deal on the spelling, let it go.)
And then came the part about the actual quality of the studies they were studying; this went on for a lot of pages, these are just the first sentences of all the descriptive paragraphs.
“Few studies gave detailed descriptions of the actual intervention in their reports. This makes it hard to assess how well specified they were.”
(You don’t know what they DID to get the data?!)
“Almost all the studies in this review were rated as providing ‘weak’ evidence because of serious design flaws.”
(Then why do you bother?)
“Few of these meta-analyses or reviews made an attempt to distinguish the strength of evidence of experimental studies and those of correlational design”
(That translates to mean that studies that had only a few subjects were given the same weight as those that had hundreds and weak ones were given the same weight as good ones. Sigh.)
“Experimental or quasi-experimental studies were invariably weak.”
“In several studies, the researchers were teachers delivering the intervention and collecting the data. There was therefore conflict of interest and teacher expectancy.”
“Biased reporting is also not uncommon.”
(Sorry for laughing there…)
This study of studies covered all of the arts but I find it interesting what bubbled to the top as “arts activities with evidence of promise”.
“Integration of music in the classroom…has favourable effects on young children’s learning outcomes, in particular cognitive abilities.”
(Like we didn’t know that already.)
The end of the summary was amazingly un-wonderful…
“No high quality single studies were found. It is therefore difficult to state conclusively what the evidence of impact of arts activities in education might be. However, given that a large number of weak or medium quality studies do suggest positive effects more work in this area, taking into account the most promising avenues, would be justified.”
(So the big news at the end of it all was that there was no big news and so we should look at it again. Got it. I’m just a simple guy but maybe it would be an interesting experiment to take all of the money that was spent on the studies and the studies of the studies and the studies of the studies of the studies and invest it in school music programs. As for future studies, don’t worry. We can have a bake sale.)