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  • Enhancing Student Learning Through Arts Integration:Implications for the Profession
  • David E. Gullatt, Ph.D.


The purpose of the present review of literature and research is to examine the numerous benefits the arts provide as enhancements for teaching and learning provided for both educators and students in PK-12 school settings. The relationship between exposure to the arts and student achievement within the academic disciplines such as mathematics, English/language arts, science, and social studies has, until recently, received mixed reviews (Winner & Hetland, 2000, Gullatt, 2007). Writings related to this topic have been typically theoretical in nature with little empirical support.

Over the past 10 years prominent theorists and practitioners such as Catterall, Eisner, and Gardner have begun to argue that the arts are integral to the education of the "whole child" (Catterall, 1998; Eisner, 1998; Gardner, 1999a). These noted theorists have recognized and supported the lifelong benefits that the arts have provided students as they became adults. If research and best practice identify benefits to the academic curriculum provided by the arts which can enhance academic gain, then why are the arts so often blatantly overlooked as a ready medium of assistance for teaching and learning in schools across America?

The recent slowdown noted in the U. S. economy, which among other things has been attributed to high oil prices, stagnant housing markets, taxpayer revolts, and skyrocketing costs of the operation of both public and private institutions, has resulted in educational budget cuts causing the redistribution of remaining funds. These economic conditions have both immediately and seriously impacted, in a negative way, the attentiveness of many school and school system leaders toward the arts as a means of increasing the opportunities for student learning. In spite of what is actually happening in educational circles, past and more recent research call for serious consideration about curricular offerings prior to reducing programs in the arts due to the positive teaching and learning effects provided (Goldsmith, 2003).

Presently, there is a sharpening of focus by both national and state educational policy planners [End Page 12] to aggressively address school and school district accountability associated with student academic success. Efforts by school district officials to positively impact student academic achievement are being better coordinated with more stringent methods utilized to determine student academic success. As a result, those making curriculum decisions about ways to enhance student academic gain will find the arts to be a research-based mechanism with which to provide assistance and enhancement for achieving increased student academic success, not an area to receive either an indirect or direct cut in funding (Goldsmith, 2003; Finch, 2004). This article will provide major talking points for both educational policy and curriculum leaders either searching for rationales to (a) continue or to prepare for providing a functional, productive arts program supporting the school educational mission of student success and/or (b) address ways to enhance the present school district teaching and learning environment through the arts. Implications for PK-12 educational professionals are also provided from summarized research addressing best practice in the area of arts integration into the PK-12 curriculum.

Development of the Arts in Schools

In order to appreciate the role of the arts in the present PK-12 academic curriculum, one must note the role that the arts have played in the history of education. Darby and Catterall (1994) cite two chronological events that led to modern thinking about the arts in education. First, researchers began their perspective with Horace Mann in the late 1800s, stating that Mann demanded that visual arts and music be taught in the common schools in Massachusetts as an aid to the curriculum and an enhancement to learning. His theory and recognition as a researcher gained the first major entrance of the arts into curricular offerings within a state. Second, they noted that Dewey posited the correlation between instruction in the arts and cognition to be positive, which had a profound effect on curriculum decisions of the time in many locations.

In addition, Bresler (1995) noted that the roots of integration of the arts into the curriculum could be traced back as far as Dewey with his views on progressive education. Bresler further stated...