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Report: Arts education has many benefits, but links to improved academics are limited

60326 full
60326 full

A comprehensive new report out Monday outlines the benefits and limits of arts education by digging into the data and outlining what research has been established in the field.

Among the findings: Learning music can boost students' IQ scores and visual arts likely help students' understanding of geometrical reasoning. But the report also notes that there's no evidence theater and dance help with overall academic skills.

The report, called "Art for Art's Sake: The Impact of Arts Education," is from the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation based in Paris at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The authors reviewed research databases in a variety of languages including Dutch, English, German, Italian, French and Korean.

Here are a few of the findings from the executive summary:

  • Music education strengthens IQ (intelligence quotient), academic performance, word decoding and phonological skills and there is preliminary evidence that music education might facilitate foreign language learning. While there are a number of studies showing a positive impact of music education on visual-spatial reasoning, the sole longitudinal study on this question detected no persistent influence after three years of music, which suggests the need for caution. There is also no evidence that music education has any causal impact on mathematics scores, even though mathematicians may be attracted to music.
  • Strong evidence shows that theatre education in the form of enacting stories in the classroom (classroom drama) strengthens verbal skills, but there is no evidence for a link between theatre training and overall academic skills.
  • While there is no evidence that training in visual arts improves overall academic skills or verbal skills (literacy), two new correlational studies reveal that students who study the visual arts are stronger in geometrical reasoning than students who do not study the visual arts. However, causality has yet to be established. And one experimental study found that learning to look closely at works of visual art improves skills in observing scientific images – a typical instance of close skills transfer.

The 270 page report calls for additional study on arts education.

"There is far too little research on the impact of arts education on student outcomes of creativity, critical thinking, persistence, motivation and self concept and this prevents us from making strong conclusions about the outcomes," wrote Barbara Ischinger, director for education and skills, in the report's foreword. "The arts can be taught in a way that enhances these outcomes, or they can be taught poorly."

You can also listen to a podcast covering the report with coauthor Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin.

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