Panel Paper: A Randomized Controlled Trial of School Visits to An Art Museum

Thursday, November 7, 2013 : 12:10 PM
Plaza II (Ritz Carlton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jay Greene, Brian Kisida and Daniel Bowen, University of Arkansas
A significant portion of the education our children receive occurs outside of the traditional school environment and produces outcomes that are not captured by math and ELA achievement tests.  This paper is part of an effort to expand the educational venues and outcomes researchers rigorously examine.  In particular, this paper presents the key results from a large-scale randomized controlled trial (RCT) of the effects of school tours to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.   

Because demand for Crystal Bridges’ School Visit Program greatly exceeded the supply of School Visit time slots, these slots were randomly awarded by lottery. There has never before been a large-scale RCT of the effects of school visits to art museums, which made this project a unique opportunity to increase the rigor with which the impact of museums on students can be known. 

Data collection involved post-visit assessments from 10,912 treatment and control group students and 479 treatment and control group teachers matched through a stratified randomization procedure.  In addition to recording demographic characteristics, assessments have measures that allow us to draw the following conclusions:

1)      Students who receive a school tour of the museum by lottery are able to recall the details and themes of their tours at very high rates.  Contrary to the suspicion of many museum educators that the details of school tours are quickly forgotten by students, we observed high rates of recall as long as 8 weeks post-visit with no sign of fading out.

2)      Students who receive a school tour of the museum by lottery are significantly more likely to develop a taste for returning to art museums and cultural institutions.  This was observed by the actual rate at which they returned to the museum as well as their survey responses.

3)      Students who receive a school tour of the museum by lottery exhibit changed values as a result of this broadening experience.  In particular, they display higher levels of tolerance and greater historical empathy (understanding what it is like to live in other times and places).

4)      Students who receive a school tour of the museum by lottery demonstrate stronger critical thinking about art.  Critical thinking was measured by having students write short essays in response to a new painting.  Those essays were then scored by multiple coders blindly and with high inter-coder reliability.

All of these observed benefits were significantly larger for more disadvantaged students (minority, low-income, or rural students).  These findings have significant implications for whether schools should devote their scarce resources to school tours of cultural institutions and for which groups of students these school tours may be most important.