Arts Initiative: Arts Education is Education Reform

Turnaround Arts Initiative: Arts Education is Education Reform

Posted on 03 May 2012
Posted on: May 1, 2012 The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH) is embarking on the most exciting new arts education initiative yet. Turnaround Arts, created in cooperation with the US Department of Education and the White House Domestic Policy Council, is a public-private partnership designed to transform some of our country’s lowest performing elementary and middle schools using intensive arts curriculums.  Turnaround Arts will work in

Sarah Jessica Parker, others join Obama arts education push

Posted on 26 Apr 2012
By David NgApril 25, 2012, 8:30 a.m. The Obama administration has enlisted a handful of prominent screen actors — including Sarah Jessica Parker, Kerry Washington, Forest Whitaker and Alfre Woodard — to help promote Turnaround Arts, an initiative launched this week to incorporate arts education in troubled schools. Turnaround Arts is a program from the President’s Committee on the Arts. The two-year pilot project has selected eight school

TAI: Turnaround Arts Initiative » Overview


The President’s Committee’s Turnaround Arts initiative, created in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Educationand the White House Domestic Policy Council, is a public-private partnership designed to help transform some the nation’s lowest performing schools through comprehensive and integrated arts education. Developed from the recommendations in PCAH’s recent report Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools, the Committee’s landmark research publication of May 2011, Turnaround Arts will test the hypothesis that high-quality and integrated arts education can be an effective tool to strengthen school reform efforts-boosting academic achievement and increasing student motivation in schools facing some of the toughest educational challenges in the country.


The first federal study of research data on the effectiveness of arts education in over a decade, Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future through Creative Schools (May 2011) analyzed the challenges and opportunities in arts education in America. Turnaround Arts puts into practice several of the recommendations in the report, including using arts education as a powerful tool for whole school reform in high poverty, low-performing schools, and the need for a wider range of evidence on its impact.

Studies included in this report show that when students participate in the arts they are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, have higher GPA/SAT scores, and demonstrate a 56 percent improvement in spatial-temporal IQ scores. They show significantly higher levels of mathematics proficiency by grade 12, are more engaged and cooperative with teachers and peers, and are more self-confident and better able to express their ideas. These benefits are particularly pronounced in high-poverty, low-performing schools, and work in tandem with other pedagogical approaches. Arts education works best as a part of overall school and education reform strategy.

A recent follow-up study commissioned by the National Endowment for the ArtsArts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies, by chief researcher James Catterall, confirms the value of arts rich education, especially for low socio-economic status youth, in academic achievement, completion of high school and college, and becoming more active and engaged citizens (April 2012). Yet according to the recent FRSS (Fast Response Survey System) study of access to arts education issued by the U.S. Department of Education, Arts Education in the Public Elementary and Secondary Schools 1999-2000 and 2009-2010 (April 2012), high-poverty students are being disproportionately short-changed on arts education opportunities in their schools.

We are, as a country, engaged in a national conversation about how to fix our nation’s broken schools. We feel strongly that, while no one strategy alone is a silver bullet, art education should have a seat at the table. Turnaround Arts will test that theory, in addition to bringing effective arts education to thousands of our neediest young people and creating more access to the arts in our most underserved neighborhoods.


PCAH and its partners will provide a number of resources and strategies to enhance arts education in each of the selected schools over a period of two years. Among these benefits are:

  • A summer institute for school leadership and nationally recognized arts education providers;
  • In-school professional development during the school year;
  • Partnerships with community arts education and cultural organizations;
  • PCAH Turnaround Artists working in each one of our schools;
  • Additional arts supplies and musical instruments;
  • A public arts event in the school with students, parents, and community;
  • Communications campaign highlighting success stories of the schools progress and achievements;
  • An educational evaluation of the effects of arts learning on whole school turnaround.


After consulting with each selected school and developing a customized strategic plan, PCAH and its partners will provide each school with the arts education services, resources and materials they most need to increase the likelihood of successful school turnaround, engage their community, and raise the visibility of their achievements. The key to these efforts will be building arts education programming that is rigorous, effective and integrated into the school. The program will work closely with each of the schools throughout the year to help them plan and implement their programming, and ensure its quality and impact.

Selection Process

Any public elementary or middle school receiving federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) funds was eligible to apply. Participating schools were competitively selected from nominations solicited from state and municipal authorities, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Education. PCAH members and staff conducted site visits to each of the finalists. Criteria for selection included demonstrated need and opportunity for arts education impact, strong school leadership with district support and evidence of a commitment to arts education as a pillar of the school’s turnaround strategy. As part of that commitment we required that all schools currently have at least one full-time arts specialist on staff.

The selection process included an evaluation of written nomination letters and SIG applications; and site visits and follow-up interviews for the finalists. The final school selections represent demographic diversity of environment (urban, rural, suburban), grade levels (elementary and middle schools) geographic spread, and student populations.