This study reports on the first large-scale, randomized-control trial measuring the educational value of field trips. In 2011, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in Arkansas and, because of the high demand for tours, the authors were able to randomly select student groups to go. They matched participating groups with control groups based on similar grade level and demographics. In total, almost 11,000 students in grades K–12 at 123 schools were involved. About half of the students took a field trip to the art museum. They received a one-hour tour in which they viewed and discussed about five paintings. (Some had additional time in the museum.) Several weeks later, the authors gave a quiz to both the participating and control groups. Even after such a modest exposure to art, the results were pretty staggering: First, participating students were able to recall a great deal of information from their tour, showing that exposure to art and culture can be an important tool to relay content information to students. Second, participants demonstrated a greater ability to think critically about art—the authors showed students a painting they had never seen before and asked them to write about it. Third, they showed greater historical empathy and tolerance (measured by asking the child questions about whether he or she imagines what life was like in the past or tries to imagine what a figure in a painting is thinking) than the control group, concepts not necessarily related to art alone. Finally, participating students were more likely to use a free coupon to bring their families to the museum. It’s important to note that all of these effects—critical thinking, historical empathy, tolerance, and interest in art museums—were much greater for students in rural schools, students in high-poverty schools, minority students, and young students. Advantaged students saw smaller effects, if any, perhaps because their parents already provide them with culturally enriching experiences. Even if based on a one-hour experience, these findings could have larger policy implications: Museums across America report a steep drop in school tours as districts reduce field trips due to lack of funds and other reasons. But this study shows that even a modest exposure to actual art can have some lasting effects.

SOURCE: Jay P. Greene, Brian Kisida, and Daniel H. Bowen, “The Educational Value of Field Trips,” Education Next 14 (1).

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