Turnaround Arts

The arts play a special role in the lives of citizens. They can engage, challenge and satisfy a vast array of people and they can provide a lasting mark for a society when they are embedded in public works, buildings and museums. In the last ten years interest in the arts has soared, especially around the use of the arts in education. Many educators think the arts stand shoulder to shoulder in importance with other subjects but since testing in English and Math has become the norm in the last twenty years of this “standards-driven” era of reform, educating students about the arts has been steadily reduced. So these last ten years of interest in the arts has some educators arguing for arts for art’s sake, i.e., just put the arts back in the curriculum. Other educators have been arguing that the arts do things for students beyond art for art’s sake, i.e., that they help students become more creative, better learners or even that the arts help students with core curriculum such as English and Math.

So these two polarized positions, arts for art’s sake and arts for something else are understood in the field of research as intrinsic and extrinsic positions. However, in my own work, instead of an either/or, intrinsic or extrinsic reason for the arts in education, I have found a range of good reasons for the presence of the arts in schools: from intrinsic reasons such as arts for art’s sake to extrinsic reasons such as arts for better teaching and learning and including arts for student achievement. Most recently comes a report on arts for their power to turn around schools in need of help. The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, 2014 has just released a report on the use of the arts to helps schools with high-poverty students turn around their performance.

“Turnaround Arts marks the first federal effort to support the use of arts education in the targeted improvement of some of America’s lowest performing schools. The program is built on the premise that arts education offerings provide school leadership with powerful tools to improve school climate and culture, as well as increase student and parent engagement, which can ultimately contribute to improvements in student outcomes.”(President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, 2014)

Turnaround Arts is a public-private partnership that aims to test the hypothesis that strategically implementing high-quality and integrated arts education programming in high-poverty chronically underperforming schools adds significant value to school-wide reform (President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, 2014).

Part of what makes this noteworthy is the private/public partnership of this work and the other reason to read this work is the use of arts integration programming. Arts integration is the use of the arts to help other subjects by integrating the arts into English and Math. This report on the role of arts integration to help turn around schools is another piece of the puzzle of how the arts effect students, schools and culture. Much more work is needed, but this report is well worth reading. In case you need to see more, I have left two citations at the end of this article that show how you can get this report and the previous report in 2011 from this committee.

“At the conclusion of the evaluation, researchers saw numerous positive outcomes that suggest program success. They found evidence of significant change in the depth and breadth of the use of the arts and intentional efforts to build infrastructure, capacity and high quality staff to bring the arts to bear in Turnaround Arts schools in deep ways. They saw leaders who had learned to strategically use the arts toward broader school goals. And they found a majority of schools that made substantial improvements in student achievement and school reform indicators, outperforming comparable schools and their own school districts. These are hopeful findings as more educators and policymakers explore using the arts to positively influence student engagement, school culture, instructional practice, and school outcomes in the country’s lowest-performing schools.”(President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, 2014)

President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. (2011). Re-Investing in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools. Washinton, DC: Retrieved from

President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. (2014). Turnaround Arts. Washington, DC: Author Retrieved from Arts Phase 1 Final Evaluation_Summary.pdf.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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