President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities' Turnaround Schools Demonstrate Student Improvement Through The Arts

Eight Schools Observed by Researchers Showed Improved Test Scores, Increased Student Attendance and Improved Student Attitudes toward School

January 22, 2015

The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), led by Co-Chairs George Stevens Jr. and Margo Lion, today released the results of an independent study that reveals substantial gains in student achievement at schools participating in its Turnaround Arts initiative. The Turnaround Arts program was designed to help turn around low-performing schools, narrow the achievement gap, and increase student engagement through the arts. PCAH engaged external researchers to track metrics for school improvement and their report released today shows broad improvements across several areas of students’ academic and performance, including surges in reading and math scores, an increase in attendance and a decrease in suspensions.

The eight schools that participated in the pilot phase of the Turnaround Arts initiative were evaluated by researcher Sara Ray Stoelinga of the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago, Yael Silk of Silk Strategic Arts, and Prateek Reddy and Nadiv Rahman of Booz Allen Hamilton. The researchers found between 2011 and 2014, students at Turnaround Arts schools demonstrated significant progress in student achievement. Of the eight observed schools, seven improved their overall reading proficiency rates and six improved their math proficiency rates. All eight schools improved in at least math or reading. Half of the observed schools improved their attendance rates significantly. And more than half of the schools dramatically reduced suspensions. The schools performed materially better in tested math and reading scores than comparable schools in their state or district going through a turnaround process but not using the arts. Click here for an overview of the research findings or here for the full report.

In May 2012, the President’s Committee, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education and the White House Domestic Policy Council, launched Turnaround Arts as a pilot program in eight “turnaround schools” across the country—public schools in the lowest-achieving five percent of their state that are receiving School Improvement Grants through the U.S. Department of Education.

Over the last three years, Turnaround Arts has brought intensive arts education resources and expertise into schools and worked with school leadership to incorporate the arts as part of their reform strategy. Schools participating in Turnaround Arts have hired new art, music, dance and theater teachers, brought in teaching artists, art supplies and music instruments into schools and supported arts integration into other core subjects such as reading, math and science.  In May 2014, the program announced a four-fold expansion, and now works in 35 schools in 25 school districts and 10 states and the District of Columbia.

“We are encouraged by the results reported in this study,” said PCAH Vice-Chair Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell, Dean Emerita, Tisch School of the Arts. “This evaluation demonstrates that the arts can be a potent means of accomplishing educational gains and shaping a well-rounded and engaging curriculum.” 

“The new research findings from Turnaround Arts schools reaffirm the power of the arts in elevating students’ entire educational experience and the overall ‘success climate’ of schools,” said Mary Luehrsen, executive director of the NAMM Foundation. “We at NAMM, along with other collaborating supporters, are honored to support this important initiative that demonstrates the power of the arts as part of a complete education for all children.” The NAMM Foundation is a major partner of the Turnaround Arts program, and supported a portion of the research study.

As part of the program, the President’s Committee has engaged dozens of “Turnaround Artists” – among the nation’s top musicians, artists, and actors – who have “adopted” turnaround schools and volunteered to work with students on their arts education curriculum. These Turnaround Artists include Alfre Woodard, Chad Smith, Chuck Close, Clarence Greenwood (aka Citizen Cope), Damian Woetzel, Doc Shaw, Elizabeth Banks, Elton John, Frank Gehry, Forest Whitaker, Jason Mraz, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, John Lloyd Young, Josh Groban, Kal Penn, Kerry James Marshall, Kerry Washington, Marc Anthony, Rashida Jones, Russell Simmons, Sarah Jessica Parker, the Silk Road Ensemble, Tim Robbins and Troy Andrews (aka Trombone Shorty), and Yo-Yo Ma.

“Working in Turnaround Arts schools over the past three years, it has been an honor to watch the passion-driven learning fueled by arts take hold, improving the lives of these students and the quality of their schools,” said PCAH member and Turnaround Artist Yo-Yo Ma. 

Partners in the program include the U.S. Department of Education, Americans for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, Crayola, the Herb Alpert Foundation, the Rosenthal Family Foundation, Music Theater International, the Keith Haring Foundation and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.  Turnaround Arts is managed by Americans for the Arts.

About the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities
Created in 1982 under President Reagan, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) is an advisory committee to the White House on cultural issues. The PCAH works directly with the three primary cultural agencies—National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services—as well as other federal partners and the private sector, to address policy questions in the arts and humanities, to initiate and support key programs in those disciplines and to recognize excellence in the field. Its core areas of focus are education, cultural exchange, and creative economy. Under the leadership of the First Lady and Honorary Chairman, and through the efforts of its federal and private members, the President’s Committee has compiled an impressive legacy over its tenure, conducting major research and policy analysis, and catalyzing important federal cultural programs, both domestic and international. For more information, please visit

# # #

MEDIA CONTACT: Gabriela Melendez, 202-464-6964

About NAMM

The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) is the not-for-profit association with a mission to strengthen the $17 billion music products industry. NAMM is comprised of approximately 10,300 members located in 104 countries and regions. NAMM events and members fund The NAMM Foundation's efforts to promote the pleasures and benefits of music, and advance active participation in music making across the lifespan. For more information about NAMM, please visit, call 800.767.NAMM (6266) or follow the organization on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.