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Arts in Education


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FY Awards

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Dr. Erin Higgins
(202) 706-8509

Dr. James Benson
(202) 245-8333


The National Center for Education Research (NCER) competed the Arts in Education special topic during its fiscal year (FY) 2017 and FY 2018 Education Research Grants (305A) competitions. The Arts in Education special topic was developed to highlight the opportunity for arts research funding through the 305A program, and to increase attention to research projects seeking to improve education outcomes through arts education and the integration of arts and academic programming. The Center’s long-term goal is to build a body of evidence that identifies, develops, and tests the efficacy of arts interventions to improve students’ academic and social and behavioral outcomes as well as to inform policy debates regarding the benefits of arts programming in schools.

Prior to the development of this special topic, the Institute funded a small number of projects that focused on or included the arts. For example, in 2012, IES funded a Development and Innovation project through the Cognition and Student Learning topic (of 305A) to develop a set of arts-integrated curriculum units to teach physical and life sciences in fifth grade classrooms. Starting in FY 2017, IES created the Arts in Education special topic to encourage additional research in this area. Although as of FY 2019 NCER will no longer compete the Arts in Education special topic, the Institute intends to continue supporting arts education research, and encourages interested researchers to submit applications to one of the Institute’s standing topic areas (within 305A) or to one of its other posted grant competitions.

Why research is still needed on Arts in Education
Although advocates of the arts have long argued for their inclusion in schools based on observed improvements to innovation, creativity, and communication, researchers have not generated causal evidence of these linkages. Challenges for rigorous research in this field include difficulty with measuring arts-related constructs, weak research designs for testing effectiveness, and wide variation in the quality of arts programming. An exploratory body of research suggests positive relationships between the arts and academic achievement and engagement in school. Recent research also connects arts education to the cognitive and neural processing that underlies academic achievement. Despite these research efforts, the causal links between arts programming, specific features of arts education, and academic and social/behavioral competencies remain open questions. Given the potential of the arts to contribute positively to students’ success in school, new research is needed to rigorously assess the effect of arts participation on education outcomes, including close examinations of potential mediators of observed effects, the types of outcomes impacted, and the conditions under which these relationships hold.

Other important research questions about arts participation include identifying how best to integrate the arts to ensure the broadest impact on student achievement in other academic areas (i.e., math, science, reading, writing). Research is needed to identify which forms of art instruction are clearly linked to improved student outcomes and when in the course of schooling they are most impactful. Given that some researchers have noted strong correlations between arts participation for at-risk youth and high school graduation as well as attending postsecondary schooling, subgroup analyses are needed to assess whether arts programming can reduce disparities in academic outcomes.

Researchers interested in studying the arts in education may apply to any NCER grant program as long as their proposed project meets the selected competition’s requirements. The most likely “fit” for research on arts education is the Education Research program (84.305A). Even though the Arts in Education special topic is no longer available, arts research can fit into other standing topics. For example, research on an arts program with possible effects on social and emotional skills may be a good fit for the Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning topic. IES also encourages researchers to partner with local school districts or state education agencies to carry out initial research on arts education and develop plans for future research. This can be done through the Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research topic in the Partnerships and Collaborations Focused on Problems of Practice or Policy program (84.305H).

If you have any questions about submitting an application to study arts in education, please contact Erin Higgins or James Benson.