These initial research reports were completed during summer 2014 by members of the Createquity editorial team. They are intended to give a sense of our (very) preliminary thoughts on the topic in question. We welcome discussion and debate. – IDM

  • A bit about our process

After defining our hypotheses more precisely, we defined five “research questions” that we felt would inform those hypotheses:

  1. How is access to arts education distributed?
  2. What is the quality of available arts education?
  3. What are the benefits of arts education?
  4. What are the differences in outcomes for formal vs informal arts education?
  5. What is the role of arts education in self-actualization?

We divvied up the research questions and agreed to start by going through artsedsearch.org. We logged relevant research reports in Zotero and traded periodic emails with updates and suggested areas of focus.

 

  • Determine the extent to which research exists addressing the topic area in general.
  • Determine the extent to which research exists addressing the specific hypotheses that we developed.
  • If possible, arrive at a broad understanding of where there are areas of consensus and debate in the research that does exist. (Looking for just a general impression here, not an in-depth review of particular studies.)

There is a ton of research on arts education, a fair amount of which addresses our hypotheses (and, more directly, on our research questions). In brief, there seems to be a lot of stuff on the distribution of access to arts ed in formal school environments. The majority of it was conducted at the state level (with a subset run through WESTAF, providing some consistency in methodology). These surveys seem reasonably comprehensive, though we don’t yet know exactly what they tell us and what they omit. Regarding the distribution of quality, many of the access studies also cover this, although we believe the rigor of this part of the research is less high/consistent, in large part because how authors define quality varies. (The report “Qualities of Quality” does a good job of outlining why comprehensive studies of the qualities of arts education have been difficult, and the major debates in the field that lead to lack of consensus around what kind of arts education “counts.”)

Regarding the benefits of arts ed, although there are lots of summaries of the literature, there are fewer studies that are more ambitious than assessing a single program or a program across a reasonably intimate community. ArtsEdSearch.org has a good overview of this part of the field, though they are clearly coming at it from the perspective of advocates (which is also true of aggregators like http://artsaskformore.artsusa.org/artsed_facts/ and http://artiseducation.org/research-tools/research/3). We suspect these studies will mostly not be models of rigor or objective analysis. We’ve tagged some of the reports that try to aggregate this work or get indirectly at broader, longitudinal effects with “major research report.” (We aren’t certain where research on the instrumental benefits of arts education would go in our hypotheses. The definition of a healthy arts ecosystem doesn’t really seem to address these, though they seem crucial to the arts ed debate.)

Regarding the differences in outcomes and availability for formal vs informal arts education: much of what is available on informal arts education (i.e., out-of-school arts education) is about museum or field-trip-based experiences, with some studies of specific out-of-school programs. It could be that there is more out there we didn’t find, given the trickiness of wording this search. (We tried things like “informal,” “out of school,” and “out of the classroom” arts ed, which seem to be the commonly-used phrases.) There is, however, some other material on out-of-school learning opportunities generally (i.e., not arts-related) and distribution across socio-economic status. This sub-literature, which we’ve only begun to search, would presumably also cover truly informal arts education in the home (e.g., parents’ playing classical music after dinner). As an aside, we encountered a fair amount of literature on art teacher prep, which may be useful to “quality,” and we’ve saved a couple of these articles.

We had hoped to investigate another research question on the role of arts education in self-actualization, but did not have a chance to do so.

 

  • Identify any hypotheses that are missing from the list but should be added in light of what you’ve found in the research.
  • If possible, arrive at an initial impression regarding the extent to which each hypothesis is supported by the research that does exist. Again if possible, assign a low/medium/high level of confidence to this impression. You can divide the hypotheses into subcomponents if that’s useful.

Many American children do not have access to meaningful, formal basic arts education (i.e., repeated exposure to multiple media as consumers and producers in a formal learning environment), which is itself a necessary component of a healthy arts ecosystem.

This hypothesis seems to be well supported by the research. We’d give it a “high.”

 

Many American children do not have access to meaningful, informal basic arts education (i.e., repeated exposure to multiple media as consumers and producers outside a formal learning environment), which is itself a necessary component of a healthy arts ecosystem.

We haven’t found much research here – and there’s the problem of defining “informal” arts education mentioned above. We’d likely have to get at this indirectly (e.g., through general surveys of arts activity, possibly even retrospective to childhood, and assumptions about learning components or pathways). More likely, we can set it aside. “Low.”

 

This lack of access to meaningful basic arts education as children prevents many people from reaping the instrumental benefits (e.g., X, Y, and Z) of this “common” opportunity.

We found a lot of research on the benefits of arts education, but are only at a “medium” confidence level here because we aren’t sure about the quality of the work. Most challenging would be showing that arts ed’s instrumental benefits can only or most effectively be achieved through arts ed, which would follow from a strong version of this hypothesis.

 

This lack of access also prevents many people from acquiring the exposure to a wide variety of arts that would lead them to pursue and benefit from “common” opportunities later in life.

AND

This lack of access also prevents some people who would have the most to contribute as and desire to pursue careers as artists and critics from recognizing and cultivating their interest and ability and from contributing fully to the ecosystem.

Unknown. We didn’t look into what drives people to take up common or scarce opportunities as adults, per se. While several reports point to insufficient arts education as resulting in declining audiences, they are not terribly robust.

 

Much current formal arts education in America is not as meaningful as it could/should be as a “common” opportunity because it is not structured to help guide students on their own path toward self-actualization.

We’re at “low-medium” here given what we know about research into quality. Again, we haven’t yet looked in to self-actualization particularly.

 

  • Report back on the utility of Zotero, Papers, and Google Docs/Sheets for tracking preliminary investigations like these. Decide whether to commit a team-wide solution at this point or experiment with other options in the next round.

We used Zotero this time to collect sources. Both of us found it a helpful tool for collecting bibliographical information quickly. Daniel found that regardless of how he came across an article, he could usually find a reference in eric.ed.gov, the federal government’s education research database, which Zotero can read easily; he then attached full-text PDFs where they were available from another source. Reading through abstracts quickly in Zotero seemed more cumbersome, however, than reading them in Excel. This was Talia’s second time using Zotero and she found it pretty user-friendly. Unfortunately, the bulk of the state arts ed access surveys were only available as PDFs online and had to be entered manually, which was time consuming. Neither of us had a lot of time to explore the notes or tagging features in full.