Compassion is not easy to measure. But for many public schools in the U.S., looking at the teaching of compassion and empathy is a crucial component to educational planning. Having students who treat each other respectfully, and who show concern for others’ well-being, is necessary, but difficult to quantify.
Music = Compassion
Recently, a study at Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research looked at 42 schools in the Houston area. 10,548 students took part in the randomized, controlled trial.
“Investigating Causal Effects of Arts Education Experiences” looked at elementary and middle schools that expressed interest in hosting performances by Houston’s Arts Access Initiative. In most cases, these schools were in low-income areas. In this district, about 30% of these schools do not have a full-time arts teacher.
Schools in the study provided exposure to music, theater, dance, and other artistic programs. This exposure was outside of school hours, and had not previously been part of their curriculum.
Since “too many schools were interested in participating,” researchers were able to take a random sample, and select schools from a larger pool of candidates. The cost to participate was only $15 per student.
At schools who added arts components, rates of disciplinary infractions dropped by an average of 3.6 percentage points. Writing test scores improved as well.
Surveys across schools that added arts and those that didn’t asked pupils to agree or disagree with sentences such as, “School work is interesting,” “I plan to go to college,” and “I want to help people who get treated badly.”
Those schools who included music and other arts showed an uptick in favorable responses to those sentences.