Sucking up to the Waltons: UA study on Crystal Bridges: UPDATE 2 | Rock Candy

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sucking up to the Waltons: UA study on Crystal Bridges: UPDATE 2

Posted By on Mon, Sep 16, 2013 at 3:11 PM

click to enlarge NEWS FLASH: U of A students who took a field trip to Crystal Bridges could identify the man in this painting. (Gilbert Stuart George Washington [The Constable-Hamilton Portrait], 1797, oil on canvas. Photo courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. )
  • NEWS FLASH: U of A students who took a field trip to Crystal Bridges could identify the man in this painting. (Gilbert Stuart George Washington [The Constable-Hamilton Portrait], 1797, oil on canvas. Photo courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. )

You've read about this on Max's blog, perhaps, but this can't go unremarked on in Eye Candy. 

The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville — you know, the one that spent $4 million more than it had in its advancement account last year — decided to put resources toward a survey of 11,000 students to determine whether a trip to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art was educational. 

Guess what! The students learned something! 

Guess who did the survey! The Walton-funded Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas! 

So here's what passes for science at Arkansas's flagship university: The head of a school created with $10 million in Walton money and another $10 million from a foundation created by persons who made their money in Wal-Mart stock decides to survey students who took a trip to Alice Walton's creation in Bentonville to see if they knew more about art and history than those who did not make the trip.

Mind-blowing. From the breathless press release from the University of Arkansas: 

U of A Announces Results of Crystal Bridges Research

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Researchers in the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas surveyed nearly 11,000 students and compared responses between those who took a field trip to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville and those who did not. They found that students who took the field trips learned more about art, demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy, and developed more of a taste for art museums compared to students who did not go on the field trip. The results offer implications for everyone from parents to policymakers.

Crystal Bridges has some of the nation's finest work from the 18th through the 20th centuries (and the 21st century is coming along), including portraits of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, and if you go there and don't come away knowing a little bit more about American political and art history, well, you spent too much time in the gift shop or chowing down at Eleven.

The survey — the creation of Jay Greene of the education "reform" department — didn't concern itself with art education in general. Trips to, say, the Arkansas Arts Center, or the Fine Arts Gallery on campus, or art classes in public schools, weren't part of the study. Only field trips, and only those to Crystal Bridges.

It's not the first survey of questionable validity to come out of the school of education "reform" — which is wholly dedicated to remaking education in the image of Walton-backed charter schools and vouchers — and it won't be the last. It is, however, the silliest. 

Up next from the UA's Walton School of Business: Students who shop at Walmart save more money than students who shop at Neiman Marcus! 


Both the University and Crystal Bridges have found fault with this post. Laura Jacobs, director of communication, said the headline is inaccurate:

"As a point of clarification, it's not a study on Crystal Bridges as your headline suggests, but a study on the benefits of culturally enriching field trips. I hope you’ll read the report when it’s released on Monday."

From the University's Steve Voorhies:

"As for your post about researching the obvious – if this were obvious schools across the country might not be cutting arts programs and field trips as unnecessary expenses."

Voorhies has provided copies of several survey instruments given to students in 2012 in grades K-12 and teachers. They include surveys dated fall 2012  and that ask general questions — have you ever been to an art museum, such as Crystal Bridges? — etc. Another survey provides images of paintings from Crystal Bridges and asks students what is happening in the paintings. Another surveyprovides images from Crystal Bridges and asks students questions about the paintings that to answer the students would have had to be provided specific information, i.e., why was this painting of a woman done?Perhaps the students who went on field trips were given the survey with the specific questions and those who did not were given the surveys asking them to interpret what they see. I'm not sure how those could be compared, but as the university communications office said, all will be revealed at a press conference at 9:30 a.m. Monday in the Great Hall at Crystal Bridges. 

I've also asked what it cost the university — both in expenses and time spent — to conduct the survey. Voorhies said they will tally it up. 

Update 2: 

The University of Arkansas spokesman has responded with the cost of the "research" that finds that going to an art museum is good for you: $100,526 in labor, $4,160 in copying and $5,029 in mileage. Total: $109,714. 

I wonder when the last time was when the University of Arkansas spent $100,000 to upgrade its own art facilities? 

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