Competition with Charters Motivates Districts

Proponents of market-based education reform often argue that introducing charter schools and other school choice policies creates a competitive dynamic that will prompt low-performing districts to improve their practice. Rather than simply providing an alternative to neighborhood public schools for a handful of students, the theory says, school choice programs actually benefit students remaining in their neighborhood schools, too. Competition motivates districts to respond to the loss of students and the revenues students bring, producing a rising tide that, as the common metaphor suggests, lifts all boats.

But in order for this to happen, districts must first recognize the need to compete for students and then make efforts to attract those students, who now have the chance to go elsewhere. Since 2007, enrollment in charter schools has jumped from 1.3 million to 2 million students, an increase of 59 percent. The school choice movement is gaining momentum, but are districts responding to the competition? In this study we investigate whether district officials in a position to influence policy and practice have begun to respond to competitive pressure from school choice in new ways. Specifically, we probe whether district officials in urban settings across the country believe they need to compete for students. If they do, what is the nature of their response?

A small number of studies and numerous media reports have attempted to capture the reactions of public school officials to these new threats to their enrollments and revenues. A few reports of obstructionist behavior by districts stand out and have been chronicled in these pages by Joe Williams (“Games Charter Opponents Play,” features, Winter 2007) and Nelson Smith (“Whose School Buildings Are They, Anyway?” features, Fall 2012). Yet our evidence suggests that the dynamics described in Williams’s report of guerilla turf wars may be evolving in many locations to reflect new political circumstances and the growing popularity of a burgeoning charter sector.

To explore the influence of school choice on district policy and practice, we scoured media sources for evidence of urban public-school districts’ responses to charter competition. Our express purpose was to catalog levels of competition awareness and types of responses by public school officials and their representatives. Our search retrieved more than 8,000 print and online media reports in the past five years (since the 2007 Williams article) from 12 urban locations in the United States. We then reviewed minutes from school board meetings, district web sites, and other district artifacts to verify if, in fact, the practices and policies described in media reports have occurred.

We selected cities according to specific criteria. We chose three urban districts with high percentages of minority and low-income students (at least 60 percent on both counts) in each region (Northeast, Midwest, South, West). In addition, districts in our sample needed to have a minimum of 6 percent of students in choice schools, the level Caroline Hoxby identified as a threshold above which districts could reasonably be expected to respond to competitive pressure (see “Rising Tide,” research, Winter 2001). Finally, we sought to include cities across the range of choice-school market shares within each geographic region, so long as they were above the 6 percent threshold (see Figure 1).

Competition Awareness

When the charter movement began in the early 1990s, few students were leaving the traditional system, and district officials were not particularly threatened with the loss of revenues as students and their funding went to other providers. That reality has changed. But before they can respond in meaningful ways, district officials need to recognize the new competitive market. Our first task was to find evidence that district officials recognize incentives associated with competing for students and meeting parental demand. We find at least one piece of evidence of competition awareness in all 12 cities, indicating that traditional public-school leaders generally acknowledge students’ alternative schooling option of attending a charter school.

In Denver, for example, school board members Jeanne Kaplan and Andrea Merida provided evidence of their awareness of competition among education providers in a 2011 guest commentary in the Denver Post. The board members raised the following point:

Before adding more charters or other new schools, the district should wait for the data to come in to justify doing so…We challenge Superintendent Tom Boasberg and our board to commit to a level playing field so neighborhood schools receive the same resources as charter and innovation schools.

In New York City, Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education until January 2011, was keenly aware of competition and openly welcomed charter schools, even if it meant publicly criticizing the public schools he oversaw. In a May 2011 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Klein wrote,

A full-scale transition from a government-run monopoly to a competitive marketplace won’t happen quickly, but that’s no reason not to begin introducing more competition… We pursued that goal in New York City by opening more than 100 charter schools in high-poverty communities. Almost 80,000 families chose these new schools—though we had space for only 40,000; the rest are on waiting lists. Traditional schools and the unions have been screaming bloody murder, which is a good sign: It means that the monopolists are beginning to feel the effects of competition.

Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent John Deasy has expressed his awareness of competition from schools of choice. Although not all of his subsequent actions conform to his claim that he is seeking healthy competition, this quotation makes it clear that he is aware of a competitive dynamic. Speaking at the Charter School Leadership Symposium in Los Angeles in 2010, he said,

Charter schools are a viable and necessary part of education. We are now in a multiple-provider world…. We’re in a moment of unhealthy competition, and I’m looking forward to healthy competition.

These are just a few examples of media reports that demonstrate cognizance of the threats posed by alternative providers, but awareness is just the first step. We next sought to figure out if knowledge actually led to action.

Characterizing Competitive Responses

Having established that districts acknowledge charter schools and are aware that they compete with them for students, we then attempted to characterize public school districts’ responses to the competition. Our characterization of responses is informed by basic economic assumptions underlying competitive markets and the premise that functional markets will lead to a rising tide of achievement for all students. Competition between charter schools and traditional public schools for students may induce a constructive reaction, an obstructive reaction, or no response.

In a constructive response to competition, school faculty and administrators may implement reforms that use resources more efficiently, improve the overall quality of education within the traditional public schools, and increase responsiveness to student needs. If the efforts are successful, then the quality of traditional public schools will increase relative to what it would have been in the absence of competition from charter schools.

In an obstructive response to increased competition for scarce public resources, public school officials may attempt to block the growth of charter schools by limiting access to buildings and information, adding burdensome bureaucratic requirements, or supporting legislation that would hinder the development of such schools.

Of course, school and district officials may choose not to respond at all if, for example, the threat or the school’s or district’s perception of a competitive threat to their resources is negligible. Similarly, schools and districts, when faced with competition, might make public statements about how they need to change but never translate these statements into action. We consider the symbolic responses described by Frederick Hess in Revolution at the Margins (2002) as effectively falling into this third category of offering no response. It is for this reason that we verified that any policy or practice change referenced in a public statement by a district official and reported in the media actually did occur.

Constructive Responses

Contrary to the largely symbolic reactions to competition evident when the school choice movement was just beginning, we find evidence of significant changes in district policy and practice. The most common positive response, found in 8 of the 12 locations, is district cooperation or collaboration with charter schools. We were even able to find evidence of this constructive response in Atlanta Public Schools, a district previously relatively unwelcoming to charter schools: in late October 2012, the U.S. Department of Education awarded a collaboration grant for teachers and administrators at B.E.S.T Academy Middle School, a district-run school in Atlanta, to participate in training conducted by the KIPP Metro Atlanta. The next three most-common constructive responses, found in seven locations, are partnerships with successful nonprofit CMOs or for-profit charter school operators, education management organizations (EMOs), to operate schools; the replication of successful charter school practices; and an increase in active efforts to market district offerings to students and families (see Table 1).

The decade between 1999 and 2009 saw a dramatic expansion in CMO schools, with increases of approximately 20 percent per year, a higher growth rate than seen by independent charter schools, according to a recent study by Mathematica Policy Research. The KIPP network and CMOs Uncommon Schools and Rocketship Education have demonstrated the ability to achieve success with challenging populations, so it may not be surprising that districts pursuing reform seek to partner with them or with equally successful EMOs. In March 2011, for instance, Detroit Public Schools (DPS) emergency financial manager at the time, Robert Bobb, proposed inviting charters and private schools to take over Detroit’s 41 most academically challenged schools. Dubbed the DPS Renaissance Plan 2012, the purpose was to engage proven charter-school operators in the district’s school-improvement effort. In April 2011, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers agreed to assist DPS as the district designed a competitive and rigorous RFP (Request for Proposal) process to identify schools that it would authorize as charters beginning in fall 2011. The district’s portfolio now includes two DPS schools that were converted to charter schools in partnership with CMOs (EdTech and the Detroit Association of Black Organizations) and three in partnership with EMOs (SABIS, Solid Rock, and the Leona Group).

As an example of a district imitating successful charter-school practices, Denver Public Schools is, as Education Week has reported, “aiming to re-create within its own buildings the innovation seen in top charter schools, and keep the state funding.” The approaches used by Denver schools in the Blueprint Schools Network since 2011 are supported by high-quality research and guided by the following five “tenets”: 1) excellence in leadership and instruction; 2) increased instructional time; 3) a no-excuses school culture of high expectations; 4) frequent assessments to improve instruction; and 5) daily tutoring in critical growth years.

Across all four regions, districts have increased marketing efforts to recruit and compete for students. For example, in Harlem, Jennifer Medina of the New York Times reported in 2010, schools were putting out fliers and actively seeking to change their images. She quoted then principal of Public School 125 Rafaela Espinal saying, “We have to think about selling ourselves all the time, and it takes a concerted effort that none of us have ever done before…We have to get them in the door if we are even going to try to convince them to come here.”

In addition to the responses described above, we find evidence of three other constructive competitive responses: expanding or improving district schools, programs or offerings (6 locations); improving district efficiency (5 locations); and supporting semiautonomous charter-like schools (5 locations).

Obstructive Responses

Although obstructive responses continue to exist and may occur in far greater number in districts not covered by our study, we found fewer visible instances of resistance to competitive pressures than of other types (see Table 1). This could reflect the activities that receive media coverage or districts’ acting more covertly when they are working against charter schools. The most common obstructive response we observed was districts seeking to block access to buildings. We find evidence of this response in three locations, with one district in three of four region display- ing this behavior. Two districts, Los Angeles Unified School District and the District of Columbia Public Schools, have recently demonstrated such unwillingness to share public space with charter schools.

California provides constitutional assurance of adequate charter school facilities. Under Proposition 39, public school districts are required to provide “reasonably equivalent” space to charter and district students. A protracted legal battle between the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and L.A. Unified began in May 2007. At issue was the formula used to calculate how much space should be offered to charter schools. A settlement was reached in April 2008, but the charter association returned to court in May 2010 citing failure of the district to comply with the agreement, and again in May 2012 to enforce the trial court’s earlier order. In June 2012, L.A. superior court judge Terry Green ruled that the district should factor in rooms not being used for regular classes. The school system appealed the order, and it was reversed in December 2012. In his opinion for the court of appeals, Judge Edward Ferns ultimately found the district’s formula for assigning classroom space to charter schools was consistent with the intent of Proposition 39. This case is now headed to the California Supreme Court.

While she has increased efficiency by consolidating district schools that have lost students to charter schools, Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Kaya Henderson initially seemed intent on preventing charters from accessing the empty buildings. Fifteen D.C. public schools were marked for closure in January 2013 as a result of underenrollment or underutilization of facilities, yet Henderson did not plan on making these facilities available to charter schools. Recent developments on this front, however, suggest that the district may allow more than a dozen charter schools to enter into leases of former district school buildings. Time will tell whether the district follows through on these plans.

The five other categories of obstructive responses observed are: 1) excessively denying charter applications, 2) creating legal obstacles to charter schools, 3) freezing or delaying payments to charter schools, 4) withholding information from charter schools, and 5) using regulations to restrict choice or interfere with competition.

In Atlanta, for example, media reports indicated that local boards were denying charter applications and setting up legal obstacles to charter school formation. In response to this behavior, in 2008 a group of lawmakers created a commission to approve and fund charter schools. In May 2011, however, the Georgia Supreme Court struck down the law after seven districts, including Atlanta Public Schools, sued to have the state law that created the commission declared unconstitutional. Ultimately, despite the efforts of these districts, a referendum passed in November 2012 that will amend the state constitution to allow for an alternate charter-school authorizer.

Broadening of Responses

The ground war between charter schools and their opponents described by Joe Williams has begun to shift. As the charter sector continues to expand, some of its competitors appear to be changing strategy. Where school districts once responded with indifference, symbolic gestures, or open hostility, we are starting to see a broadening of responses, perhaps fueled by acceptance that the charter sector will continue to thrive, or by knowledge that many charters are providing examples of ways to raise academic achievement.

Traditional public schools are aware of the threats posed by alternative education providers, but they are analyzing the moves made by competitors and demonstrating that they may have the savvy to reflect, replicate, experiment, and enter into partnerships with school choice providers. This evidence suggests that while bureaucratic change may often be slow, it may be a mistake to underestimate the capacity of these bureaucratic institutions to reform, adapt, and adjust in light of changing environments.

The Transformational Potential of Flipped Classrooms

If 2012 was the year of MOOCs (massive open online courses) in higher education, then the flipped classroom was the innovation of the year for K–12 schools (see “The Flipped Classroom,” what next, Winter 2012).

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post spilled ink over the phenomenon. Several authors resorted to old-fashioned books to discuss flipping, including the two teachers who allegedly originated the technique (see Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams). None of that tells us anything about the number of teachers who actually flipped their classrooms. No one has offered any firm measure of the practice or, more importantly, assessed its impact on student learning.

In case you missed all the hype, the flipped classroom is a form of blended learning in which students learn online at least part of the time while attending a brick-and-mortar school. Either at home or during a homework period at school, students view lessons and lectures online. Time in the classroom, previously reserved for teacher instruction, is spent on what we used to call homework, with teacher assistance as needed.

How can this improve student learning? Homework and lecture time have merely been switched. Students still learn through a lecture. And many online lectures are primitive videos.

There is some truth in this characterization, but it misses the key insight behind the flipped classroom. If some students don’t understand what is presented in a real-time classroom lecture, it’s too bad for them. The teacher must barrel on to pace the lesson for the class as a whole, which often means going too slow for some and too fast for others.

Moving the delivery of basic content instruction online gives students the opportunity to hit rewind and view again a section they don’t understand or fast-forward through material they have already mastered. Students decide what to watch and when, which, theoretically at least, gives them greater ownership over their learning.

Viewing lectures online may not seem to differ much from the traditional homework reading assignment, but there is at least one critical difference: Classroom time is no longer spent taking in raw content, a largely passive process. Instead, while at school, students do practice problems, discuss issues, or work on specific projects. The classroom becomes an interactive environment that engages students more directly in their education.

In the flipped classroom, the teacher is available to guide students as they apply what they have learned online. One of the drawbacks of traditional homework is that students don’t receive meaningful feedback on their work while they are doing it; they may have no opportunity to relearn concepts they struggled to master. With a teacher present to answer questions and watch over how students are doing, the feedback cycle has greater potential to bolster student learning.

The flipped classroom does not address all the limitations of the brick-and-mortar school. Although in the best flipped-classroom implementations, each student can move at her own pace and view lessons at home that meet her individual needs rather than those of the entire class, most flipped classrooms do not operate this way. As Salman Khan, the media’s personification of the flipped-classroom, observes in The One World Schoolhouse, “Although it makes class time more interactive and lectures more independent, the ‘flipped classroom’ still has students moving together in age-based cohorts at roughly the same pace, with snapshot exams that are used more to label students than address their weaknesses” (see “To YouTube and Beyond,” book reviews, Summer 2013).

This arrangement also doesn’t tackle the root causes of the lack of motivation that persists among many low-achieving students.

Some in the media have suggested that the flipped-classroom approach may only work in upper-income, suburban schools. If low-income students lack access to computers at home or to reliable Internet access, flipping may be a nonstarter in some schools. If students can’t benefit from online instruction at home, then they need to receive instruction in the classroom or risk falling behind. Some fear that in relying on parents to provide technology and support, the flipped-classroom model may exacerbate existing resource inequalities. Schools can make computer labs available during afterschool hours, however, and parental assistance is less critical when watching an online video than when solving homework problems.

What is perhaps most telling is that the “no-excuses” charter schools that serve large numbers of low-income students well—KIPP, Rocketship, Alliance, and Summit among them—are not flipping their classrooms. Even as these schools adopt blended-learning models, the flipped classroom isn’t among them. The models these schools are employing give students more support as they need it and actively guide students to more ownership over their learning. These models also do not rely on students having access to high-speed Internet-connected computers at home; online learning occurs during the school day.

Even if the flipped classroom does prove of some benefit to some low-income students, this change in structure alone is unlikely to produce the vast improvement in student learning our country needs. But that doesn’t mean the innovation is insignificant. The flipped classroom might still have an important indirect impact on the American education system, as one brand of digital learning. The optimal use of digital learning will vary in different contexts and communities. Some people will attend full-time virtual schools, with even the “classroom” experience occurring online; most will attend brick-and-mortar schools that employ some version of digital learning.

Unlike school vouchers for low-income students, charter schools in disadvantaged communities, or bonus pay for teachers in inner-city schools, digital learning is not designed for just one slice of the population. It’s not a policy that parents might support in theory but, because it has no practical impact on them, won’t spend political energy promoting or defending. Rather, if it works as well as its proponents hope, digital learning will gather political support from a wide swath of the American public.

And it may well turn out that the flipped classroom is most effective in private schools or upper-income suburban schools. If that’s how those students make the best use of digital learning, that’s OK. As Khan says, “Blue jeans didn’t become cool until Hollywood started wearing them.” In the world of digital learning, the flipped classroom may just be one good brand.

The Educational Value of Field Trips

The school field trip has a long history in American public education. For decades, students have piled into yellow buses to visit a variety of cultural institutions, including art, natural history, and science museums, as well as theaters, zoos, and historical sites. Schools gladly endured the expense and disruption of providing field trips because they saw these experiences as central to their educational mission: schools exist not only to provide economically useful skills in numeracy and literacy, but also to produce civilized young men and women who would appreciate the arts and culture. More-advantaged families may take their children to these cultural institutions outside of school hours, but less-advantaged students are less likely to have these experiences if schools do not provide them. 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. Museums across the country report a steep drop in school tours. For example, the Field Museum in Chicago at one time welcomed more than 300,000 students every year. Recently the number is below 200,000. Between 2002 and 2007, Cincinnati arts organizations saw a 30 percent decrease in student attendance. 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. Financial pressures force schools to make difficult decisions about how to allocate scarce resources, and field trips are increasingly seen as an unnecessary frill. Greater focus on raising student performance on math and reading standardized tests may also lead schools to cut field trips. 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. Schools take students to amusement parks, sporting events, and movie theaters instead of to museums and historical sites. This shift from “enrichment” to “reward” field trips is reflected in a generational change among teachers about the purposes of these outings. In a 2012‒13 survey we conducted of nearly 500 Arkansas teachers, those who had been teaching for at least 15 years were significantly more likely to believe that the primary purpose of a field trip is to provide a learning opportunity, while more junior teachers were more likely to see the primary purpose as “enjoyment.”

If schools are de-emphasizing culturally enriching field trips, has anything been lost as a result? Surprisingly, we have relatively little rigorous evidence about how field trips affect students. 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.

We find that students learn quite a lot. 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. 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. Crystal Bridges reimburses schools for the cost of buses, provides free admission and lunch, and even pays for the cost of substitute teachers to cover for teachers who accompany students on the tour.

Because the tour is completely free to schools, and because Crystal Bridges was built in an area that never previously had an art museum, there was high demand for school tours. Not all school groups could be accommodated right away. So our research team worked with the staff at Crystal Bridges to assign spots for school tours by lottery. 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. An ideal and common matched pair would be adjacent grades in the same school. 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 and receive a tour that semester and which would be in the control group and have its tour deferred.

We administered surveys to 10,912 students and 489 teachers at 123 different schools three weeks, on average, after the treatment group received its tour. 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. Finally, we collected a behavioral measure of interest in art consumption by providing all students with a coded coupon good for free family admission to a special exhibit at the museum to see whether the field trip increased the likelihood of students making future visits.

All results reported below are derived from regression models that control for student grade level and gender and make comparisons within each matched pair, while taking into account the fact that students in the matched pair of applicant groups are likely to be similar in ways that we are unable to observe. Standard validity tests confirmed that the survey items employed to generate the various scales used as outcomes measured the same underlying constructs.

The intervention we studied is a modest one. 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. Instructional materials were sent to teachers who went on a tour, but our survey of teachers suggests that these materials received relatively little attention, on average no more than an hour of total class time. The discussion of each painting during the tour was largely student-directed, with the museum educators facilitating the discourse and providing commentary beyond the names of the work and the artist and a brief description only when students requested it. This format is now the norm in school tours of art museums. The aversion to having museum educators provide information about works of art is motivated in part by progressive education theories and by a conviction among many in museum education that students retain very little factual information from their tours.


Recalling Tour Details. Our research suggests that students actually retain a great deal of factual information from their tours. Students who received a tour of the museum were able to recall details about the paintings they had seen at very high rates. For example, 88 percent 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 on slave labor. Similarly, 82 percent 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. Among students who saw Thomas Hart Benton’s Ploughing It Under, 79 percent recollected that it is a depiction of a farmer destroying his crops as part of a Depression-era price support program. And 70 percent of the students who saw Romare Bearden’s Sacrifice could remember that it is part of the Harlem Renaissance art movement. Since there was no guarantee that these facts would be raised in student-directed discussions, and because students had no particular reason for remembering these details (there was no test or grade associated with the tours), it is impressive that they could recall historical and sociological information at such high rates.

These results suggest that art could be an important tool for effectively conveying traditional academic content, but this analysis cannot prove it. The control-group performance was hardly better than chance in identifying factual information about these paintings, but they never had the opportunity to learn the material. The high rate of recall of factual information by students who toured the museum demonstrates that the tours made an impression. The students could remember important details about what they saw and discussed.

Critical Thinking. Beyond recalling the details of their tour, did a visit to an art museum have a significant effect on students? Our study demonstrates that it did. For example, students randomly assigned to receive a school tour of Crystal Bridges later displayed demonstrably stronger ability to think critically about art than the control group.

During the first semester of the study, we showed all 3rd- through 12th-grade students a painting they had not previously seen, Bo Bartlett’s The Box. We then asked students to write short essays in response to two questions: What do you think is going on in this painting? And, what do you see that makes you think that? These are standard prompts used by museum educators to spark discussion during school tours.

We stripped the essays of all identifying information and had two coders rate the compositions using a seven-item rubric for measuring critical thinking that was developed by researchers at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The measure is based on the number of instances that students engaged in the following in their essays: observing, interpreting, evaluating, associating, problem finding, comparing, and flexible thinking. Our measure of critical thinking is the sum of the counts of these seven items. In total, our research team blindly scored 3,811 essays. For 750 of those essays, two researchers scored them independently. The scores they assigned to the same essay were very similar, demonstrating that we were able to measure critical thinking about art with a high degree of inter-coder reliability.

We express the impact of a school tour of Crystal Bridges on critical-thinking skills in terms of standard-deviation effect sizes. Overall, we find that students assigned by lottery to a tour of the museum improve their ability to think critically about art by 9 percent of a standard deviation relative to the control group. The benefit for disadvantaged groups is considerably larger (see Figure 1). Rural students, who live in towns with fewer than 10,000 people, experience an increase in critical-thinking skills of nearly one-third of a standard deviation. Students from high-poverty schools (those where more than 50 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches) experience an 18 percent effect-size improvement in critical thinking about art, as do minority students.

A large amount of the gain in critical-thinking skills stems from an increase in the number of observations that students made in their essays. Students who went on a tour became more observant, noticing and describing more details in an image. Being observant and paying attention to detail is an important and highly useful skill that students learn when they study and discuss works of art. Additional research is required to determine if the gains in critical thinking when analyzing a work of art would transfer into improved critical thinking about other, non-art-related subjects.

Historical Empathy. Tours of art museums also affect students’ values. Visiting an art museum exposes students to a diversity of ideas, peoples, places, and time periods. That broadening experience imparts greater appreciation and understanding. We see the effects in significantly higher historical empathy and tolerance measures among students randomly assigned to a school tour of Crystal Bridges.

Historical empathy is the ability to understand and appreciate what life was like for people who lived in a different time and place. This is a central purpose of teaching history, as it provides students with a clearer perspective about their own time and place. To measure historical empathy, we included three statements on the survey with which students could express their level of agreement or disagreement: 1) I have a good understanding of how early Americans thought and felt; 2) I can imagine what life was like for people 100 years ago; and 3) When looking at a painting that shows people, I try to imagine what those people are thinking. We combined these items into a scale measuring historical empathy.

Students who went on a tour of Crystal Bridges experience a 6 percent of a standard deviation increase in historical empathy. Among rural students, the benefit is much larger, a 15 percent of a standard deviation gain. We can illustrate this benefit by focusing on one of the items in the historical empathy scale. When asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “I have a good understanding of how early Americans thought and felt,” 70 percent of the treatment-group students express agreement compared to 66 percent of the control group. Among rural participants, 69 percent of the treatment-group students agree with this statement compared to 62 percent of the control group. The fact that Crystal Bridges features art from different periods in American history may have helped produce these gains in historical empathy.

Tolerance. To measure tolerance we included four statements on the survey to which students could express their level of agreement or disagreement: 1) People who disagree with my point of view bother me; 2) Artists whose work is critical of America should not be allowed to have their work shown in art museums; 3) I appreciate hearing views different from my own; and 4) I think people can have different opinions about the same thing. We combined these items into a scale measuring the general effect of the tour on tolerance.

Overall, receiving a school tour of an art museum increases student tolerance by 7 percent of a standard deviation. As with critical thinking, the benefits are much larger for students in disadvantaged groups. Rural students who visited Crystal Bridges experience a 13 percent of a standard deviation improvement in tolerance. For students at high-poverty schools, the benefit is 9 percent of a standard deviation.

The improvement in tolerance for students who went on a tour of Crystal Bridges can be illustrated by the responses to one of the items within the tolerance scale. When asked about the statement, “Artists whose work is critical of America should not be allowed to have their work shown in art museums,” 35 percent of the control-group students express agreement. But for students randomly assigned to receive a school tour of the art museum, only 32 percent agree with censoring art critical of America. Among rural students, 34 percent of the control group would censor art compared to 30 percent for the treatment group. In high-poverty schools, 37 percent of the control-group students would censor compared to 32 percent of the treatment-group students. These differences are not huge, but neither is the intervention. These changes represent the realistic improvement in tolerance that results from a half-day experience at an art museum.

Interest in Art Museums. Perhaps the most important outcome of a school tour is whether it cultivates an interest among students in returning to cultural institutions in the future. If visiting a museum helps improve critical thinking, historical empathy, tolerance, and other outcomes not measured in this study, then those benefits would compound for students if they were more likely to frequent similar cultural institutions throughout their life. The direct effects of a single visit are necessarily modest and may not persist, but if school tours help students become regular museum visitors, they may enjoy a lifetime of enhanced critical thinking, tolerance, and historical empathy.

We measured how school tours of Crystal Bridges develop in students an interest in visiting art museums in two ways: with survey items and a behavioral measure. We included a series of items in the survey designed to gauge student interest:

• I plan to visit art museums when I am an adult.

• I would tell my friends they should visit an art museum.

• Trips to art museums are interesting.

• Trips to art museums are fun.

• Would your friend like to go to an art museum on a field trip?

• Would you like more museums in your community?

• How interested are you in visiting art museums?

• If your friends or family wanted to go to an art museum, how interested would you be in going?

Interest in visiting art museums among students who toured the museum is 8 percent of a standard deviation higher than that in the randomized control group. Among rural students, the increase is much larger: 22 percent of a standard deviation. Students at high-poverty schools score 11 percent of a standard deviation higher on the cultural consumer scale if they were randomly assigned to tour the museum. And minority students gain 10 percent of a standard deviation in their desire to be art consumers.

One of the eight items in the art consumer scale asked students to express the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “I would tell my friends they should visit an art museum.” For all students who received a tour, 70 percent agree with this statement, compared to 66 percent in the control group. Among rural participants, 73 percent of the treatment-group students agree versus 63 percent of the control group. In high-poverty schools, 74 percent would recommend art museums to their friends compared to 68 percent of the control group. And among minority students, 72 percent of those who received a tour would tell their friends to visit an art museum, relative to 67 percent of the control group. Students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are more likely to have positive feelings about visiting museums if they receive a school tour.

We also measured whether students are more likely to visit Crystal Bridges in the future if they received a school tour. All students who participated in the study during the first semester, including those who did not receive a tour, were provided with a coupon that gave them and their families free entry to a special exhibit at Crystal Bridges. The coupons were coded so that we could determine the applicant group to which students belonged. Students had as long as six months after receipt of the coupon to use it.

We collected all redeemed coupons and were able to calculate how many adults and youths were admitted. Though students in the treatment group received 49 percent of all coupons that were distributed, 58 percent of the people admitted to the special exhibit with those coupons came from the treatment group. In other words, the families of students who received a tour were 18 percent more likely to return to the museum than we would expect if their rate of coupon use was the same as their share of distributed coupons.

This is particularly impressive given that the treatment-group students had recently visited the museum. Their desire to visit a museum might have been satiated, while the control group might have been curious to visit Crystal Bridges for the first time. Despite having recently been to the museum, students who received a school tour came back at higher rates. Receiving a school tour cultivates a taste for visiting art museums, and perhaps for sharing the experience with others.

Disadvantaged Students

One consistent pattern in our results is that the benefits of a school tour are generally much larger for students from less-advantaged backgrounds. Students from rural areas and high-poverty schools, as well as minority students, typically show gains that are two to three times larger than those of the total sample. Disadvantaged students assigned by lottery to receive a school tour of an art museum make exceptionally large gains in critical thinking, historical empathy, tolerance, and becoming art consumers.

It appears that the less prior exposure to culturally enriching experiences students have, the larger the benefit of receiving a school tour of a museum. We have some direct measures to support this explanation. To isolate the effect of the first time visiting the museum, we truncated our sample to include only control-group students who had never visited Crystal Bridges and treatment-group students who had visited for the first time during their tour. The effect for this first visit is roughly twice as large as that for the overall sample, just as it is for disadvantaged students.

In addition, we administered a different version of our survey to students in kindergarten through 2nd grade. Very young students are less likely to have had previous exposure to culturally enriching experiences. Very young students make exceptionally large improvements in the observed outcomes, just like disadvantaged students and first-time visitors.

When we examine effects for subgroups of advantaged students, we typically find much smaller or null effects. Students from large towns and low-poverty schools experience few significant gains from their school tour of an art museum. If schools do not provide culturally enriching experiences for these students, their families are likely to have the inclination and ability to provide those experiences on their own. But the families of disadvantaged students are less likely to substitute their own efforts when schools do not offer culturally enriching experiences. Disadvantaged students need their schools to take them on enriching field trips if they are likely to have these experiences at all.

Policy Implications

School field trips to cultural institutions have notable benefits. Students randomly assigned to receive a school tour of an art museum experience improvements in their knowledge of and ability to think critically about art, display stronger historical empathy, develop higher tolerance, and are more likely to visit such cultural institutions as art museums in the future. If schools cut field trips or switch to “reward” trips that visit less-enriching destinations, then these important educational opportunities are lost. It is particularly important that schools serving disadvantaged students provide culturally enriching field trip experiences.

This first-ever, large-scale, random-assignment experiment of the effects of school tours of an art museum should help inform the thinking of school administrators, educators, policymakers, and philanthropists. Policymakers should consider these results when deciding whether schools have sufficient resources and appropriate policy guidance to take their students on tours of cultural institutions. School administrators should give thought to these results when deciding whether to use their resources and time for these tours. And philanthropists should weigh these results when deciding whether to build and maintain these cultural institutions with quality educational programs. We don’t just want our children to acquire work skills from their education; we also want them to develop into civilized people who appreciate the breadth of human accomplishments. The school field trip is an important tool for meeting this goal.

Education – Improve Learning, Test Scores and Performance Through 10 Universal Laws of Learning

In the effort to meet No Child Left Behind mandates as well as to increase performance through corporate training and development, how to make students or participants learn continues to vex highly trained educators and professional facilitators. From my 25 plus years of experience in business and education, I have come to accept and believe in these 10 Universal Laws of Learning.

Universal Learning Law #1

Learning is an innate desire within ALL human beings. To ignore this first law of learning is what makes any student disengage themselves from the learning environment.

Universal Learning Law #2

Learning is multi-dimensional for ALL human beings. We have numerous senses from which to learn.

Universal Learning Law #3

Learning is an ongoing process for ALL human beings. Learning should never be an event, but a continuum.

Universal Learning Law #4

Learning is a separate behavior from performance. Learning is the acquisition of knowledge. Performance is the application of knowledge.

Universal Learning Law #5

Learning needs to be relevant to each individual based upon his or her existing experiences or schema. Bordeom is a symptom of this law.

Universal Learning Law #6

Learning is a bridge between new information and the students’ or participants’ existing schema. The goal is to build the strongest and most flexible bridge possible.

Universal Learning Law #7

Each learning objective requires a one to one correspondence to each testing statement to evaluate the effectiveness of instruction. Do not play “gotcha” with your students.

Universal Learning Law #8

Learning is delivered in short sessions to allow time for interaction between students or participants.

Universal Learning Law #9

Learning must avoid the “Osmosis Factor” where a presumption exists that the students or participants will acquire certain knowledge and skills without direct instruction.

Universal Learning Law #10

The brain will only absorb what the butt will endure.

Possibly, these 10 Universal Laws of Learning will help you improve your own professional development, your school or your organization.

Obtaining An Online Bachelor Degree

If asked, most people would say that they would like to have a Bachelor degree. Having a Bachelor’s degree could make a real difference in the lives of many people. However, most people have a job, and taking the time off from their work is not a possibility to attend a traditional college or university. The classes at a traditional college are usually not conducive to working full-time. But times, they are changing. With non-traditional students who want to obtain a degree making their voices heard, colleges and universities are hearing this and responding to it by providing various types of online instruction. While it is a way for colleges to have more money, it is the perfect way for someone to earn an online Bachelor’s degree.

The most important aspect of earning an online degree is making sure that the degree is form an accredited college. If it is not accredited, it is not worth the paper it is printed on. Accreditation means that the school is recognized as an institution that provides classes and degrees based on certain curriculum, and that it is similar to the programs at other schools. Finding out if the school where you wish to obtain an online degree is accredited is the first step and the most vital step in the online degree process.

It is possible to get an online Bachelor’s degree is a variety of subjects. Requesting information from several schools will assure you that you find the best online program for you. You can also get financial aid at many of these schools, so make sure you investigate that option. Many of these online universities offer advice on career planning after you finish your degree, too.

There are tons of advantages to getting an online Bachelor’s degree through distance learning. There is no commuting in traffic and then trying finding parking spaces in overcrowded lots. You can arrange your class schedule around your life, instead of trying to arrange your life around your class schedule. Convenience and flexibility are perhaps the greatest assets of online learning. You still get to interact with teachers and other students, and can access the resources of the school through the Internet.

Getting an online Bachelor’s degree can be the first step in getting a better and job and making more money. You can improve the quality of your life and have more leisure time. Since more and more people are expressing interest in this option, it is probably going to be a very accepted way to earn a degree in the future. The world is always changing, and this is just another way that education is changing with it. Getting a Bachelor’s degree has become a lot easier for many of those people who thought it was out of their reach until now.