To the Editor:
I couldn’t agree more with the authors of “Art Matters: We Know, We Measured It” (Commentary, Dec. 3, 2014) that there is great value in teaching arts and culture to children. However, I respectfully disagree with the authors’ assertion that the value of the arts does not include improving outcomes in reading and math, and that there are no rigorous studies of the arts’ effects on these subjects.
In fact, there is a substantial research base on the relationship of the arts to other academic skills. Check out “Critical Links,” a 2002 compilation from the National Endowment for the Arts of hundreds of studies showing links between learning in the arts and student academic and social development.
The Commentary authors cite one 2004 meta-analysis by Lois Hetland and Ellen Winner that “found little credible evidence that the benefits of the arts transfer to other academic subjects.” Yet, the abstract of that very study says: “Three analyses demonstrate generalizable, causal relationships: classroom drama and verbal achievement, music listening and spatial reasoning, and music learning and spatial reasoning.” Verbal achievement relates to reading development, and spatial reasoning relates to math skills.
The nonprofit organization I lead, Reading In Motion, has been raising the reading scores of Chicago public school students for 31 years with our music- and drama-based curriculum. And we have the research to back it up. Ten outside studies prove our work’s effects on reading skills, many using randomized control groups and pre- and post- designs. (See readinginmotion.org.) In the 2013-14 school year, our internal measurements show that our program got 81 percent of students reading at or above grade level—roughly 20 percent higher than those in schools not using our curriculum.
We need to invest more in high-quality research on the impact of arts education. But let’s not overlook the research that already exists.
Co-Founder and Executive Director
Reading in Motion
A version of this article appeared in the February 18, 2015 edition of Education Week as Yes, the Arts Do Improve Reading, Math Outcomes