CHICAGO, Sept. 21, 2011 - Teaching artists (TAs)—artists who make teaching a part of their professional practice as artists—are critical to the future of arts education and to improving the quality of schools. These are two of the conclusions of the Teaching Artists Research Project, a three-year study by NORC at the University of Chicago that is the most comprehensive examination of the work and world of teaching artists.
TAs have been major providers of arts education in community settings for over a century. In the last three decades they have become important resources in primary and secondary schools as well, where they have mitigated a long-term decline in arts education. In the process they have made significant contributions to making schools better places for students to learn and grow.
Prior studies have provided strong evidence that arts education has powerful positive effects on student achievement and outcomes. NORC’s new study offers hope to schools struggling to preserve arts education programs and to policy-makers searching for effective education strategies to improve schools.
“Careful analysis of student data and evaluation of arts education programs has shown that learning in the arts is strongly correlated with improved student behavior, attendance, engagement in school, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, social development, and, yes, even test scores,” said Nick Rabkin, principal investigator for the study. “The positive effects are most significant for low-income students. Given the data, art education should not be a perpetual candidate for funding cuts, but a core element of education reform.”
The NORC study found that teaching artists are an underutilized resource. They are abundant in larger cities with well-developed arts institutions and communities, but they are present in smaller communities as well, even rural communities. Most work part-time, earning about $10,000 a year from their teaching, and are eager for more work. They can be an important element of any strategy to reverse the long-term decline in arts education for American children and serious assets to schools intent on becoming more creative places for children to learn.
“Teaching artists bring their own perspective to teaching the arts—a democratic one,” said Rabkin. “Though a majority has advanced degrees in the arts, many from distinguished conservatories, most TAs are confident that all students can learn the arts, and many see the arts as a pathway to learning in other academic areas.
That reverses a pattern in school-based arts education – to sort the especially talented students from the rest and point them toward advanced instruction, offering the arts to fewer students as they move through school. And, while not formally trained as teachers, TAs do instruct through the commonly accepted elements of good teaching: that it should be cognitive, student-centered, and social.”
Half of TAs have advanced degrees, often in an art form, and most have substantial teaching experience, but most do not have advanced training in education. Only about ten percent are certified teachers. Today they work in an enormous range of venues: senior centers, libraries, youth organizations, churches, parks, and schools among others. “They are remarkably dedicated people—to their art and to their students. While they are not well-paid, they get other rewards from teaching that keeps them committed. Most feel that teaching makes them better artists.”
“But,” Rabkin cautioned, “This is a young, underdeveloped and endangered field. It needs support to thrive and deliver its full potential, particularly in schools, where the arts have been declining for some time.” The report recommends three strategic objectives toward that end:
- Expand demand for arts education through advocacy and research.
- Improve conditions for TAs and other arts educators to sustain and stabilize the field.
- Improve the quality and effectiveness of TAs through professional development built on their best practices.
Provided with a preliminary copy of the NORC study’s findings, the May, 2011 report from President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities,“Reinvesting in Arts Education,”
made “expand(ing) in-school opportunities for teaching artists” one of five recommendations.
The Teaching Artist Research Project was conducted in a dozen study sites: Boston, Chicago, Providence, Seattle/Tacoma, and eight locations in California (San Diego, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Bakersfield, Santa Cruz, Salinas, the Bay Area, and Humboldt County). It was supported by grants from twenty-three private foundations and two state arts agencies.
NORC at the University of Chicago is an independent research organization headquartered in downtown Chicago with additional offices on the University of Chicago's campus and in the D.C. Metro area. NORC also supports a nationwide field staff as well as international research operations. With clients throughout the world, NORC collaborates with government agencies, foundations, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and businesses to provide data and analysis that support informed decision making in key areas including health, education, economics, crime, justice, energy, security, and the environment. NORC’s 70 years of leadership and experience in data collection, analysis, and dissemination—coupled with deep subject matter expertise—provides the foundation for effective solutions.