New Study Points to the Widespread Benefits of Arts Education for Young Students

A new study demonstrates that arts education offers multiple benefits — both academic and social-emotional — to young people of color from low-income backgrounds.

The study was conducted by researchers at Texas A&M University and the University of Missouri through an experiment with Houston’s Arts Access Initiative (AAI).

A total of 42 Houston-area elementary and middle schools participated in the experiment across a two-year period, during which school administrators collaborated with AAI staff to create arts programs tailored to each school’s individual culture and student population. Offerings included professional artist performances, field trips, and teaching artist residencies. From multicultural children’s theatre to traditional African storytelling, the students were exposed to a wide range of performing and visual artists and mediums.

Students at the participating schools were predominantly persons of color who came from low-income families. Three out of four identified as Latinx, a quarter were African American, and 86 percent were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. In addition, more than 25 percent were receiving educational support for limited English proficiency.

Researchers measured the impact of the arts programming by tracking the students’ disciplinary infractions, their number of absences, and standardized test scores. In addition, they surveyed 8,614 students regarding their attitudes toward school, their interest in the arts, and whether they thought art benefitted their overall education.

Researchers found that participation in these innovative programs led to a reduced number of disciplinary infractions and marginal growth in writing ability and compassion for others. The study also shows that exposing young students to the arts actually improved their performance on standardized assessments.

In addition, researchers found that elementary age youth, those with limited English language proficiency, and those identified as gifted and talented experience the benefits of arts programming to an even greater extent than their peers.