The SchoolWorks Lab researches school reform data and conclusions to provide answers to questions on relevant topics useful to the general public and the field of education. Listed below are executive summaries of the lab’s research in chronological order. Please contact Robert Southworth if you want further information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SchoolWorks Lab’s Research
1990: Fenway Middle College High School, Boston, MA
SchoolWorks Lab’s Policy
Transforming Engaging Practice into Responsive Policy
1. Defining Arts Education Policy
- Competing Priorities for Arts Education Research. The evaluators of this grant think that the definition of arts education is a broad tent under which many arts activities can be nurtured, along a continuum of research and not the current dualism of intrinsic and extrinsic justifications. The “aesthetic experience” (Winner, Goldstein, & Vincent-Lancrin, 2013) can include many types of cognitive outcomes (Mansilla, 2004), a variety of skill-work (J. Catterall, 2009), the molding of habits of mind (Winner & Hetland, 2007), and, the increase in student achievement (R. Southworth, 2006; R. Southworth, Gardiner, & Gulden, 2009). And yet the duality of intrinsic versus extrinsic justifications for the role that the arts should play in K-12 schools masks a larger research and policy problem underlying the basic definition of arts education, from the Latin “educare,” to draw out. The process for drawing out of student learning in and through the arts remains less well defined and understood.
- Definition of Arts Policy. Defining arts education policy should be based on an agreement that the “arts don’t do anything” (Gaztambide-Fernandez, 2013) but that student course taking in arts education programs that employ arts integration strategies have proven very effective in raising test scores (J. S. Catterall, Dumais, & Hampden-Thompson, 2012), cognitive advancement (Boix-Mansilla, 2016) and skill learning contexts (Gardiner, 2008) and aesthetic appreciation and judgement. Policy claims that the “arts do something” is the number one advocacy statement that other policymakers, researchers and citizens misuse and for which we all can be criticized. Arts education policy should be based on specific definitions of arts education and uses such as what motivates students to learn, how disadvantaged populations could benefit and what teachers need in order to be effective with a growing diversity of learners.
- The rise of advocacy in the face of severe reductions in arts education dollars nation-wide set off competing priorities for arts education research that have not been resolved to this day. The field’s ambivalence resembles other field’s competing priorities and the struggle for definitions of the primary paradigm under which research is funded and directed.
- The overwhelming direction in arts education research is to uncover, through more rigorous design, the effect of the arts on student achievement in disadvantaged populations.
2. De-Link the Problem of Transfer and Re-Emphasize Student Learning
- Quality. The current research on integrating the arts into core curriculums can only make a small contribution to the larger understanding of arts education but that contribution has major implications for defining policy in arts education: students who experience quality arts integration in ELA and Math are likely to perform better intellectually and be accountable for what they know and can do. Why not set this up as a national priority for improving student learning throughout the nation?
- Most importantly, especially for policy in arts education, why not let the increase in student achievement on standardized tests in Common Core take care of itself, and not pose as a justification for the role of the arts in K-12 schools, and invent new ways that arts education are accountable, including but not limited to new forms of embedded assessments, embedded work in Common Core and Arts Standards, and new ways of understanding the real learning advantage gained by participating in carefully constructed arts integration experiences?
3. Reframing the policy problems in arts: Create new capacity building policies
- New Arts Education Policy Needed. The current research on integrating the arts into core curriculums can only make a small contribution to the larger understanding of arts education but that contribution has major implications for defining policy in arts education: students who experience quality arts integration in ELA and Math are likely to perform better intellectually and be accountable for what they know and can do. Why not add arts integration to the national priority for improving student learning throughout the nation?
- Better Assessment of the Arts. Most importantly, especially for policy in arts education, why not let the increase in student achievement on standardized tests in Common Core take care of itself, and not pose as a justification for the role of the arts in K-12 schools? Why not invent new ways that arts education are accountable, including but not limited to new forms of embedded assessments, embedded work in Common Core and Arts Standards, and new ways of understanding the real learning advantage gained by participating in carefully constructed arts integration experience.
- Narrowing the Curriculum. For the last 14 years national education policy has held all school systems accountable for delivering 100% attainment of proficiency in standards measured by standardized tests. Despite any real change in student scores, the curriculum has been narrowed in order for teachers to teach to these high-stakes tests. The logical end-game of such policies would mean that schools would continue to cut all subjects out, not just arts and sports, but also science and social studies and eventually English and Math. The policy of narrowing the curriculum would come to its logical conclusion that only “comprehension” would be taught.
- Reverse the Trend to Cut the Arts. However, the fourteen-year policy of narrowing the curriculum has failed to boost student achievement and it has shredded two thousand years of thinking that a liberal arts education is a worthy goal of our K-12 strategy. The liberal arts are to be used together, as the brain integrates the information and results in a more rounded and educated student. The only analysis left is to re-instate a liberal arts curriculum, reverse the trend in cutting the arts, and reinvigorate the curriculum with not just an arts integrated approach, but also a science, technology, engineering, ARTS and math integration (STEAM).
- Build the capacity of districts and schools to integrate the arts. In order to establish a fully integrated curriculum, teachers must be educated, and policy should be changed from accountability for student test scores to accountability for learning how to educate every student, from every walk of life, for improvement of student learning that will show up in every way that we can think to test it.
- Focus this policy on Job-Embedded, peer-to-peer professional development. What this research found that is very important for professional development policy is that teachers learn best from other teachers. This is well known in the Literature but it has to enjoy support from the central office. When watching other teachers teach, especially their own students, which we have called “job-embedded professional development,” teachers overwhelmingly endorsed that this was the best chance for them to understand how integrating the arts can be done well in their classrooms with their students.
4. Use Arts Integration to Comply with New ESSA Regulations
In the Every Student Succeeds Act, (ESSA), a new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESEA, the civil rights era law has been updated. The ESSA law final regulations specifically address the original purpose to provide all children with a quality education:
We are changing these regulations to provide clarity and support to State educational agencies (SEAs), LEAs, and schools as they implement the ESEA requirements regarding statewide assessment systems, and to ensure that key requirements in title I of the ESEA are implemented in a manner consistent with the purposes of the law–“to provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps.” (Unite States Legislature, 2016)
In Order to Comply with the ESSA Law, Change the Work of Teachers. The logical conclusion from our work is to promote a change in policy for what we expect teachers to do during their instructional day if we want them to provide all students with equity of access to a quality curriculum. If we want to close educational achievement gaps, and provide a fair, equitable and high-quality education, arts education policy should be based on arts learning transfer skills and what motivates students to learn, how disadvantaged populations could benefit from that learning and what teachers need in order to be effective with a growing diversity of learners.
It is by deliberate practice, the amount of deliberate effort to improve performance (in this case, through arts integration), that learning is enhanced and teaching matters (Hattie, 2012, p. 123).
We need to build the capacity of all teachers through job-embedded professional development in arts integration. Teachers should learn the skills of arts integration in “on the job” training. As teachers learn to fully integrate theatre, dance, music and visual arts into core curriculums, student thinking will be better revealed, and student acquisition of the arts transfer learning skills will drive intellectual improvement for all students in all subjects.