Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 11, No 1 (Summer 2000)

Edward B. Fiske, Editor

November 1999, 98 pages, developed in cooperation with the Arts Education Partnership and the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, funded by the G.E. Fund and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Champions of Change compiles seven significant articles about the role that the arts can play in the social and intellectual development of young people. It offers inspiring reading for anyone involved in arts education grantmaking and insight for grantmakers into features of high quality programs. Based on the work of leading researchers from institutions across the country, Champions of Change has excellent potential as an advocacy tool for advancing the arts education field.

Two projects are closely related to papers presented at the GIA 1998 annual conference in Chicago — James S. Catterall's investigation of the effect of students' involvement in the arts on their social and academic development, and Shirley Brice Heath's assessment of the value of “Art in the Nonschool Hours.” Heath described her research in GIA's Newsletter (spring 1998). Both Catterall's and Heath's papers from GIA's conference were later published as monographs by Americans for the Arts.

In the earlier paper presented to GIA, Dr. Catterall compares accomplishments of generally-described “high art” and “low art” involved students. Here, in a piece co-authored with Richard Chapleau and John Iwanaga, he looks at levels of involvement in two art forms — instrumental music and theater — and their respective effects on academic achievement in math and reading as well as on a range of social attitudes and behaviors. Of particular significance, Catterall analyzed the data from the perspective of the students' economic situations.

Shirley Brice Heath's “Imaginative Actuality: Learning in the Arts during the Nonschool Hours” (with Adelma Roach) is based on a long-term study of high quality community-based organizations. Heath discovered: “Arts organizations turned out...to provide fertile contexts for cognitive and linguistic development not available elsewhere for most adolescents.” Her article offers an excellent guide to what to look for in a high quality youth development organization in general and what to look for in a high quality youth program involving young people with artists.

In “Learning in and through the Arts,” Judith Burton, Robert Horowitz, and Hal Abeles use a combination of standardized tests and some self-designed assessments as tools for studying more than 2,000 pupils attending public schools in grades 4-8. Their goals were to better understand the cognitive, social, and personal skills developed through arts learning, whether these competencies have a general effect on learning, and what conditions in schools support this learning. They compared schools taking a variety of approaches to arts education. The study offers grantmakers of arts-in-schools program insight into high quality programs and a multi-faceted description of excellence.

Later pieces in Champions of Change evolve from big picture views to focused assessments of grantmakers' initiatives, school districts, arts organizations' programs, and isolated classrooms. In all cases, these assessments — based on projects from distinct geographic regions, using different research methods, and employing leading scholars — demonstrate that high quality arts education makes a significant difference in schools and community agencies, for teachers and their students.

Review by Frances Phillips, Walter and Elise Haas Fund.