Are School Field Trips Important?

This holiday season we’re taking a break from our regular programming to offer a series of reflective blog entries in the holiday spirit. Instead of political commentary, we’re planning to wrap up 2016 by bringing you good news and promising innovations in K-12 education.

ednext_XIV_1_greene_homepage2The school field trip has a long history in American public education, but today, culturally enriching field trips are in decline and an increasing number of schools are prioritizing field trips to movie theaters and theme parks as rewards for student effort on standardized tests. Has anything been lost as a result? That question inspired the authors of the following study.

The Educational Value of Field Trips,” by Jay P. Greene, Brian Kisida, and Daniel H. Bowen, which appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of Education Next, is the first large-scale randomized-control trial designed to measure what students learn from school tours of an art museum, this one in Bentonville, AR.

Here is what the study found:

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.

A follow-up study looked at what students gain from attending a live theater performance.

In “Learning from Live Theater,” by Jay P. Greene, Collin Hitt, Anne Kraybill and Cari A. Bogulski, published in the Winter 2015 issue of Education Next, the authors conclude

Culturally enriching field trips matter. They produce significant benefits for students on a variety of educational outcomes that schools and communities care about. This experiment on the effects of field trips to see live theater demonstrates that seeing plays is an effective way to teach academic content; increases student tolerance by providing exposure to a broader, more diverse world; and improves the ability of students to recognize what other people are thinking or feeling.

Jay Greene, a co-author of both studies, discusses them in this episode of the Education Next podcast.

—Education Next

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