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Art to Heart

Art for Learning: One District's Experience

In 1996, the Daviess County, Kentucky public schools initiated an effort to redesign education in the district to improve student achievement. The district asked for community volunteers to help, and committees were formed to do research and to make recommendations. The result was Graduation 2010, which mapped out a 13-year program of studies for all students in the district, with particular emphasis on young children.

The arts and music are two of the program's eight key components. (The other six are foreign language, reading, critical thinking, health and emotional health, parental involvement, and community involvement.) Graduation 2010 called for keyboard labs in each elementary school, along with intensive music instruction. Elementary students also experience dance, drama, and the visual arts taught by professional artists.

Why the Arts?

The recommendations were based on research into brain development. Daviess County parents and teachers looked at a wide range of research, including Howard Gardner's ideas on multiple intelligence, Project Zero's REAP (Reviewing Education and the Arts Project), neurological research, information from the Suzuki organization, and research done at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia. The committee concluded that "The research is clear that there is a direct correlation between learning music and high academic achievement. By learning music, pathways in the brain are formed that will be utilized for other complex thinking and learning."

Foreign language instruction also begins in kindergarten. And to help foster critical thinking, all students learn to play chess.

Encouraging Results

The district has seen what Stu Silberman, district superintendent when the project was initiated, calls "very encouraging" results. As children who were in kindergarten when Graduation 2010 began to reach middle school, "you look at a graph [of scores on state tests] and it goes straight up from the time we started. Our kids are achieving at very high levels."

The district's accountability index as determined by Kentucky's CATS (Commonwealth Accountability Testing System) scores rose from 78.9 in 1999, the first year for CATS, to 94.1 in 2005. A state goal is for all students to achieve proficiency by 2014-a goal already achieved by all of Daviess County's elementary schools.

  • Find out more about Graduation 2010, its recommendations, the research considered, and the district's performance at the Daviess County Public Schools web site.
  • Since the Art to Heart segment in Daviess County was taped, Silberman left Daviess County to become superintendent of another Kentucky public school district, the Fayette County Public Schools, where he has initiated a similar communitywide educational improvement project: 2020 Vision.

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