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During the first two semesters of the school tour program, the museum received 525 applications from school groups representing 38,347 students in kindergarten through grade 12.We created matched pairs among the applicant groups based on similarity in grade level and other demographic factors.The school field trip has a long history in American public education.
Crystal Bridges is the first major art museum to be built in the United States in the last four decades, with more than 50,000 square feet of gallery space and an endowment in excess of $800 million.
Portions of the museum’s endowment are devoted to covering all of the expenses associated with school tours.
Standard validity tests confirmed that the survey items employed to generate the various scales used as outcomes measured the same underlying constructs. Students received a one-hour tour of the museum in which they typically viewed and discussed five paintings.
Some students were free to roam the museum following their formal tour, but the entire experience usually involved less than half a day.
The research presented here is the first large-scale randomized-control trial designed to measure what students learn from school tours of an art museum. In particular, enriching field trips contribute to the development of students into civilized young men and women who possess more knowledge about art, have stronger critical-thinking skills, exhibit increased historical empathy, display higher levels of tolerance, and have a greater taste for consuming art and culture.
Design of the Study and School Tours The 2011 opening of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Northwest Arkansas created the opportunity for this study.Some schools believe that student time would be better spent in the classroom preparing for the exams.When schools do organize field trips, they are increasingly choosing to take students on trips to reward them for working hard to improve their test scores rather than to provide cultural enrichment.With field trips, public schools viewed themselves as the great equalizer in terms of access to our cultural heritage.Today, culturally enriching field trips are in decline.The student surveys included multiple items assessing knowledge about art as well as measures of critical thinking, historical empathy, tolerance, and sustained interest in visiting art museums.Some groups were surveyed as late as eight weeks after the tour, but it was not possible to collect data after longer periods because each control group was guaranteed a tour during the following semester as a reward for its cooperation.There is no indication that the results reported below faded for groups surveyed after longer periods.We also assessed students’ critical-thinking skills by asking them to write a short essay in response to a painting that they had not previously seen.A survey by the American Association of School Administrators found that more than half of schools eliminated planned field trips in 2010–11.The decision to reduce culturally enriching field trips reflects a variety of factors.