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icon of glasses and a book Special Topics: Arts in Education


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Dr. Erin Higgins
(202) 245-6541

Dr. James Benson
(202) 245-8333


The Arts in Education special topic supports research to understand the implementation and effects of arts programs and policies at the K-12 level in order to improve the education outcomes of students. Research connecting student participation in the arts to academic outcomes and social/behavioral competencies has the potential to inform contemporary policy debates regarding the benefits of arts programming in schools. Advocates of the arts have long argued for their inclusion in schools for their general benefits such as improved innovation, creativity, and communication, but there is not sufficient rigorous research providing conclusive evidence of this link, in part due to challenges with measuring these constructs. An exploratory body of research suggests a positive relationship 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.

States and school districts often feel the need to make tradeoffs between instruction in core subjects (e.g., math, reading) and instruction in the arts. Given the potential of the arts to contribute positively to studentsí success in school, new research is needed to rigorously assess the effect of arts participation on education outcomes, including a close look at potential mediators of any 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 incorporate the arts to ensure the broadest impact on student achievement in other academic areas (i.e., math, science, reading, writing). For example, arts programming varies in type, intensity, and quality. Research is needed to identify which forms are clearly linked to improved student outcomes and when in the course of schooling they are most impactful. Finally, 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.