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New research finds evidence arts education increases school engagement, attendance among Boston students

At the Eliot K-8 Innovation School in January 2020, soprano Brianna J. Robinson, in the foreground, and other artists from the Boston Lyric Opera visited to perform excerpts from Hansel and Gretel as part of an interactive program introducing opera to area students.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Boston Public Schools students who were enrolled in arts education programs had greater school engagement and higher daily attendance, and their parents were more likely to be active in school activities, according to the results of a new study.

The report, set to be released Monday by the Boston-based nonprofit EdVestors, looked at about a decade’s worth of data collected from students and teachers to assess the impact of students’ participation in the arts on their school experience.

Boston schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said in a statement that the new research provides evidence supporting “what we already know: arts education engages students, builds community, expresses our shared humanity and experience, and contributes to joyful learning environments.”


Cassellius said that Boston Public Schools will continue to prioritize the arts “as we promote our students’ social and emotional health to fully recover from this pandemic and reimagine learning for our young people.”

The study, which took about a year and a half to complete, reviewed data collected from 10 years starting with the 2008-09 school year and ending with 2018-19 school year. That data included student-level administrative datasets, school-level arts data on educational participation, resources, and opportunities, according to the study. It also drew upon school-level climate survey data that the school district has collected from students and teachers since the 2009-10 school year.

It also used data collected through EdVestors’ BPS Arts Expansion program, which the nonprofit said is intended to expand access and equity in arts education.

Marinell Rousmaniere, the president and CEO of EdVestors, said in a phone interview that arts education serves another role for students: It provides them with a means of working through the often-difficult circumstances they experienced during the pandemic.

“It helps them express themselves and find ways to make meaning of the collective trauma we’ve all had,” she said. “It’s a twofer, in our minds, in terms of meeting the needs of young people in these times.”


Brian Kisida, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri’s Truman School of Public Affairs who co-led the study, said its findings are also going to be important as schools respond to the disruptions to in-person learning caused by COVID-19.

“It’s a really timely point in history for this research to come out, because education policy makers and leaders are really going to be looking for ways to re-engage students,” Kisida said in a phone interview.

Koriana Bradford, who has taught music at the Chittick Elementary School for the past eight years, said in a phone interview that arts education provides students with a different outlet than they might find in other classes.

“They discover they have talent they didn’t realize they had, and so their confidence is boosted,” she said. “They find that they really thrive in the arts, so that really helps them to shine, and find an identity, too.”

Sophia Thomas, a senior at the Snowden International School, said arts education is an important way to create space for students to be themselves.

Arts education in schools allow students to “define that space and use it the way they want to use it,” they said in a phone interview.

Thomas, 18, a poet who has used time during quarantine to develop their art, also has an interest in fashion and creating jewelry.


“Especially for students, opening them up to different mediums and forms of expression... it gives them that space to find different alleyways and experiment,” Thomas said.

The report found that when students were enrolled in arts courses, their attendance increased roughly one-third of a day per student over the course of a 180-day school year. For a classroom of 25 students, this translated into nine additional days of instruction, the report said.

The positive effect on attendance was robust across grade level, gender, race, and ethnicity, economic status, and English-language learner program participation, the report said. Researchers also said teachers reported higher levels of student and parent engagement when more students are enrolled in arts courses.

“As education administrators and policymakers struggle for ways to connect with students and their parents, these results suggest one strategy ... to provide a robust school climate is through providing arts education as a core ingredient in a well-rounded education,” the report said.

Researchers also found some evidence, however, that arts education enrollment slightly increased student suspension rates, though the effects were “not practically significant,” according to the report. But they also found small increases in achievement among middle-schoolers in English and math classes, they said.

The study’s findings are critical for informing policy decisions regarding the provision and allocation of arts educational resources and opportunities, the report said.

Daniel H. Bowen, an assistant professor at Texas A&M University’s College of Education & Human Development, who co-led the study with Kisida, said some of the strongest positive effects from arts education were found among students who had chronic absenteeism, as well as English language learners, and those with individualized education plans.


Schools tend to struggle in trying to engage with these students, he said. “And it seems as though the arts have profound effects on those populations,” Bowen said in a phone interview.

John Hilliard can be reached at