Let’s tweet about schools and the arts

twitbirdNew York City schools with best access to arts programs have higher graduation rates, study says. http://tinyurl.com/yfhabp9.

My opening sentence reproduces a tweet I composed a couple of weeks ago for Portal Wisconsin’s recently born Twitter stream. At 124 characters, the message gave notice to a  brief article that caught my attention that day and fit neatly within Twitter’s 140-character limit. When I clicked the “update” button, I thought the tweet was benign enough (and, if I’m being honest, even a little banal). But in fact, it ruffled the feathers of an @portalwisconsin follower, which got me thinking about using this blog and micro-blogs like Twitter to facilitate discussions on arts-related topics.

In a series of reply-tweets, the offended follower raises an interesting question regarding arts education research. He argues that we shouldn’t strive to quantify relationships between classes in the arts and standardized test scores. Attempts at establishing this sort of causality, he says, miss the mark: we need to change the focus of the discussion to one that champions the intrinsic value of arts education, or “arts must b suprtd 4 sake of arts edu not 4 sake of anthng els! it gvs wel-rounded knowldg & edu, & anothr way of thnkng,” to quote one of his tweets. In his view, the study I linked to amounted to “junk science.”

Point taken, sort of.

I whole-heartedly agree that many learning experiences, like listening to an opera or visiting an art museum, can’t really be measured. I believe the arts play an integral role in a well-rounded education–or in educating the whole child, as has become the popular expression. And I regret that federal rules require teachers to devote more and more class time to those skills we perceive as easy-to-measure, at the expense of other less quantifiable skills.

On the other hand, the study I cited does not claim arts education improves student test scores in core subject areas; it only says schools with strong arts programs have better graduation rates. This is why my tweet originally seemed banal to me: while I’ll  own up to some bias, my personal logic tells me that the arts help engage kids in school, and when kids are engaged, they more likely show up. To me, that relationship seems a natural one, and hardly earth-shattering news. As for the research into whether art classes improve geometry scores and the like, I simply don’t have the scientific expertise to know for sure.

So why do I bring up my first-ever Twitter tiff here, rather than on Twitter? Not because this blog allows me unlimited characters with which to make my point. In fact, often I prefer the enforced brevity of Twitter, and I initially composed a couple of quick replies. I wound up not posting them, in the end (or posting one, then deleting it), to avoid confusion between Portal Wisconsin, the Web site, and my personal opinions.

As Portal’s resident twitterer, I’ve attempted to write varied messages–posting news from our Cultural Coalition partners, featuring the latest Portal Wisconsin blog posts, spotlighting sometimes overlooked sections of the site, even live-tweeting from the Wisconsin Book Festival, about anything related to arts, history and culture that captures my attention.  However, I would avoid tweets that give the impression that my views reflect those of our entire organization. On this blog, I can more easily own my words.

What do you think? Should educators, researchers and arts advocates even attempt to link art and math and science learning? Are there better gauges of achievement in arts programs? It’s a tough question, given the trend toward narrowing the curriculum and the increased reliance on standardized testing as a measure of school success.

I would love for blog readers and Twitter followers to continue the conversaton. If we can help each other think more deeply about arts, culture and education, as @BorisMakesArt helped me do on Twitter, I will consider our early adventures in social media worthwhile. At Portal Wisconsin, we want to find ways to engage Wisconsin residents in the rich world of art, culture, history and thought that characterizes our state. (My last sentence, incidentally, is one I can confidently say does reflect the opinions and mission of our entire organization.)

–Tammy Kempfert

5 Responses to Let’s tweet about schools and the arts

  1. Martina-Tina says:


    I truly believe that good, balanced education is a corner stone for building any successful society. The kids in the USA need to be exposed to more science as well to have access to different art classes. I will quote Ellen Winner, Principal Investigator for Project Zero’s REAP, Boston College and Harvard Graduate School of Education who says:

    “Let’s remember why societies have always included the arts in every child’s education. The reason is simple. The arts are a fundamentally important part of culture, and an education without them is an impoverished education leading to an impoverished society. Studying the arts should not have to be justified in terms of anything else. The arts are as important as the sciences: they are time- honored ways of learning, knowing and expressing.”

    Please also check The Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City paper: “HOW ARTS EDUCATION CREATES BETTER STUDENTS, BETTER OPPORTUNITIES AND BETTER FUTURES

    “When young people become engaged in the arts, something changes in their lives.
    Arts advocates know this intuitively, but in a society that values measurement and data- driven research, the smiling faces of students are not enough to allocate scarce resources to funding arts education programs.
    During the past 10 years, however, a growing body of educational research has vindicated the intuition of the arts advocates. The verdict: Not only does arts education matter, but it can make an extraordinary difference in the educational experience and success of students:
    ♦ Exposure to the arts changes the learning experience. This change touches everyone arts education comes into contact with, offering new challenges for successful students and often providing the only engagement opportunity for students considered classroom failures. Arts education transforms the learning environment, connecting classroom activities to the increasingly idea-based economy and workplace.
    ♦ These changes are broad, beneficial, and of long-term impact to students’ lives. The impacts of an arts-rich learning experience go far beyond students’ knowledge of the humanities and range from better overall academic achievement and lower dropout rates to a greater recognition of the importance of community service.
    ♦ The positive impacts in urban settings are particularly significant. A 10-year study of high school students across the nation found that while an arts-rich education helped all students, the impact to students from a low-income background was particularly strong. This evidence is correlated in Chicago, where arts education played a significant role in one of the highest profile district turnarounds of the past 20 years.
    ♦ Arts education works both inside and outside the classroom. Research indicates that non-school programs that center on the arts— such as community youth programs in Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and performing and cultural arts centers and museums—offer highly effective learning environments for older children and teenagers who face circumstances that place them at risk.
    In 1999, the findings from several major studies were compiled into Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning. This report, funded by the GE Fund and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, presented qualitative and quantitative data on how the arts can improve academic performance, energize teachers, and transform learning environments. Much of this paper is drawn from Champions of Change or from its root research sources. Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, Youth ARTS: Arts Programs for Youth at Risk, Imaginative Actuality: Learning in the Arts During the Non- school Hours and other research papers provided valuable information as well.“

    You may read a full paper at: http://www.artskc.org/_FileLibrary/Publication/19/FirstStepsPDF.pdf

  2. Boris O says:

    Martina thank you for posting. Very good points. 1st, what are some current books/places to research/go about arts education?
    Will finish reading article later, but the one issue i have are tests where they say: high involvement and results and low involvement and results. pg 4. (UCLA study) it says involvement in arts correlates with achievement in other subject. In other words the study doesn’t prove anything. The students that are involved in general will do better in all subjects and vice versa and it may have nothing to do with the fact that one of the subjects that they are taking is art.
    I’m skeptical how these studies are done, nevertheless i know that art should be taken as seriously as other subjects in the classroom. I believe in equality of all subjects.

    Why does art/art history get cut? What can be done about this?

    Admittedly the way art is taught in middle and high school from my experiences explains why people don’t appreciate it and hardly learn anything after taking a middle/high school art class. I suspect art gets cut because the masses (voters) don’t see the value in it because they never received good art education. And art teachers try to please shallow parents. Its a frustrating cycle. But i don’t understand how the people who cut art don’t have the education or dare i say common sense to understand that (philosophically or theoretically) art cannot be less valuable than other subjects. All they need to do is read a few key pages about why art is important written by some philosophers/education theorists.

  3. Thanks for the comments. I think Martina’s quote about our statistics-obsessed culture gets to the crux of the issue–and it’s an age-old question. Do we work for reform within the system, or do we create more vibrant, powerful systems of our own? Wish I had the answer.

    I’m also curious about Boris’s comment on good art education. In your opinion, what does that look like, and how does it differ from what you see middle and high school students getting?

  4. sorry for delay, and great point/dilemma Tammy

    good art education is like the art education at an art college. there it is more open minded, process, and thought driven, with the times, and is not merely concerned with teaching kids how to reproduce a cool photograph with a pencil or paintbrush without any intellectual thought. Quite the opposite, art school teaches students to think, and gives them freedom to put that thinking into any form. Of course students, parents and the public don’t take high school art class seriously, because they look at the results and at best say, “hey that’s a cool picture, look at how colorful/realistic it looks, he’s good!” But then when it comes down to funding the class, people think “why is it essential for students to know how to draw sunsets and flowers?” And art classes in high school strive to please parents. Teachers make students make “art” that pleases parents so the parents support the art program. Forget about parents. High school art classes must first break all the student’s biases about art, and show them how and why this masterpiece painting for example it soo significant and awesome. The classes must be more provocative, and not make kids think art is a mindless task for girls or losers. Combine more art history too. When i was in HS i was never explained what the significance of cubism or realism was, only given its characteristics so that i could recognize it on the exam. I felt it was “just the way the artists felt like drawing,” or they was the “saw” the world, “just cause.” BUt no, there is much more behind it.

  5. Martina-Tina says:

    Hi Boris,

    I am sorry to learn about your not so good experience with high school art classes. One more reason to support and create good art programs and invest in great art educators so that future generations have better experience than yours.

    I went to high school in Europe where learning art history and understanding art was important part of curriculum.

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