A study involving 10,912 K–12 students, some 489 teachers from 123 different schools examined the impact Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has had on learning.
The study results were shared in the journal — Education Next — by researchers from the University of Arkansas who conducted the analysis over the past year.
“We found that students who attended a school tour at Crystal Bridges demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of tolerance, had more historical empathy and developed a taste for being a cultural consumer in the future,” said Jay P. Greene, head of the department of education reform at the UA. Greene is also the 21st Century Chair in Education Reform at the college who conducted the study along with senior research associate Brian Kisida and doctoral fellow Daniel H. Bowen.
“We also found that these benefits were much larger, in general, for students from rural areas or high-poverty schools, as well as minority students,” said Greene.
Since its opening Sept. 11, 2011, Crystal Bridges set forth to be a valuable educational resource for the region. A generous donation from the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation of Springdale established a $10 million endowment for Crystal Bridges to provide school groups with funds necessary for a complete museum visit, including funding to cover the cost of transportation and substitute teachers if needed, lunches for the students and teachers, and pre- and post-visit educational materials.
“Since Crystal Bridges is in an area where an art museum had not previously existed, and because the field trip is free to schools, we had high demand for the tours and decided to select participants via a random lottery,” said Anne Kraybill, Crystal Bridges’ school programs manager. “In initial meetings with the University of Arkansas, it became clear that this lottery system would provide the right conditions for conducting research.”
During the first two semesters of the school tour program, Crystal Bridges received 525 applications from school groups representing 38,347 K-12 students.
Greene, Kisida and Bowen matched pairs among the applicants based on similarity in grade level and other demographic factors.
“An ideal and common matched pair would be adjacent grades in the same school,” said Greene. “We then randomly ordered the matched pairs to determine scheduling prioritization. Within each pair we randomly assigned which applicant would be in the ‘treatment’ group—the group that would receive a tour that semester—and which would be in the control group, whose tour would be deferred to a later time.”
The team administered nearly 11,000 surveys roughly three weeks after they toured the museum.. The surveys included items assessing student knowledge about art, as well as measures of student tolerance, historical empathy, and desire to become cultural consumers. After the survey assessment, each control group was guaranteed a tour during the following semester as a reward for its cooperation.
The team also collected critical thinking measures from students by asking them to write a short essay in response to a painting that they had not previously seen. Finally, they collected a behavioral measure of cultural consumption by providing all students with a coupon good for free family admission to a special exhibition at the museum to see whether the field trip increased the likelihood of students making future visits.
“This research is the first large-scale, randomized controlled trial measuring what students learn from school tours of an art museum,” said Kisida.
Greene said the survey results showed students retained a great deal of factual information from their tours.
For example, 88% of the students who saw the Eastman Johnson painting, At the Camp—Spinning Yarns and Whittling, knew when surveyed weeks later that the painting depicts abolitionists making maple syrup to undermine the sugar industry which relied upon slave labor.
He said 82% of those who saw Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the RIveter could recall that the painting emphasizes the importance of women entering the workforce during World War II.