Rob Horowitz, Ed.D.
Executive Director, ArtsResearch and Associate Director, Center for Arts Education Research, Teachers College, Columbia University. He is known for his arts education research that demonstrates the important relationships between in-school arts learning and cognitive, social, and personal competencies.
The Collaborative’s Research Thought Leaders help provide the strong foundation upon which the Collaborative’s work rests. Each Thought Leader is nationally and internationally recognized in his/her own field and brings an extensive depth of experience and expertise. They also are adept at working across disciplines.
A Thought Leader is featured in each Collaborative newsletter. In this issue, we visit with Rob Horowitz, Ed.D., whose expertise and research in arts education helps inform the work of the Collaborative. In a conversation with Collaborative Executive Director Lucinda Presley, Rob talked about his work and its relationship to the Collaborative.
Tell us about your career.
I was originally a working musician, but was always interested in education. I had three major educational experiences that helped prepare me for my work. In my first experience, I became a teacher in New York City. Because I wanted to make a difference, I taught music, computer science, social studies, and a lot of other things at an alternative high school for students who had dropped out or been suspended. I became the tech coordinator for the school. I helped these students get their alternative degrees. I helped a lot of students, but there were also were a lot of challenges. In that job, I learned a lot about education, city politics, and how schools work. It was an enormously educational experience for me. I had an undergraduate degree in music and history, so, while I was teaching at the alternative school, I went to Teachers College at Columbia for a master’s degree in music education. I liked it so much, I stayed for another master’s in music ed. and then a doctorate in music ed. My dissertation was on assessment of jazz improvisation. I ended up leaving the teaching job and concentrating on those degrees. I loved research.
When I graduated, I ended up, in the 1990s, working for ArtsVision, a consulting firm based in New York City that did work all over the U.S. In this, my second educational experience, I helped ArtsVision with evaluation and assessment projects and curriculum and program development. We worked to re-energize arts education in New York City, which had been in decline for a number of years. The project resulted in a $36 million grant for NYC arts education, with $12 million provided by the Annenberg Foundation. For me, this was one of my main educational experiences because I learned about public policy, foundations, cultural groups, and their relationship to school systems. I also learned about how partnerships and collaboration work from all perspectives – from the funding to the teaching/practitioner side. Our work became the catalyst for New York City school districts to start emphasizing arts education once again.
Tell us about your research.
The Center for Arts Education Research at Teachers College, Columbia was awarded a grant from the MacArthur Foundation and GE Fund to study transfer, or how the arts can influence other kinds of learning. It was the largest study in a monograph, Champions of Change, that was published by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Champions of Change has been widely distributed, and still has a strong internet life. Our study was called “Learning in and Through the Arts” (LIATA). My full-time job to manage that grant for a few years was my third major educational experience. I learned how to manage a large grant, how to think about transfer, and how the arts might influence other spheres of learning. The transfer model that we worked on and the ways of thinking about it has influenced my work ever since. (For more information on this transfer study, see the article “Transfer between Disciplines: A New Perspective” in this newsletter.) We developed a model which helped show that there are ways of thinking, feeling, and doing – competencies – that are unique to the arts and that also are applicable to other areas. Our model identified cognitive, social, and personal competencies and dispositions that are inherent to the arts and also applicable in other domains, that may provide the pathways to transfer. The model has been consistent with other models with some overlapping categories, such as Hetland and Winner’s Studio Habits of Mind at Project Zero, aspects of 21st Century Skills and CASEL’s Social-Emotional Learning Competencies. The consistency is encouraging and indicates we are collectively on our way to better understanding how the arts influence human development.
Mary Hafeli, who worked on that project with me, and I were recently funded by the National Endowment for the Arts to reopen some of the LIATA data and do a secondary analysis. We found strong relationships between elaborative thinking skills and visual arts and drama. We also found that the outcomes we described in LIATA were strongest when there was effective collaboration between classroom teachers and arts specialists.
What have you discovered in your research that points to the importance of the Collaborative’s work?
From my standpoint, we can look at some of these areas we identified in LIATA and see whether or not they are applied in other areas. For instance, it is interesting to observe how creativity, imagination, and the willingness to express oneself are applied in the STEM world. All the things we found in our LIATA transfer study can be carried through to other areas. It’s important to look at how those competencies learned in the arts are reapplied in other areas – or vice versa. That is what the Collaborative is doing with its rubrics and and thinking skills – looking at transfer across disciplines.
How do you think the Collaborative is moving the arts and arts education fields forward?
Certainly we need this type of work across disciplines where we all learn from each other, where we can delve into these bigger questions, and where we engage in those questions of ways of thinking, ways of doing, and how these interact across subjects. This is so important. It’s important, too, that the Collaboratve is returning us to that, moving us out of our silos so that educators can think about those relationships. The arts very much needs this to help the arts teachers come out of their classrooms and interact with other teachers, for it’s important for them to be a part of their communities.
What steps need to be taken in the future for K-12, out-of-school, and higher education to provide a firm foundation for the STEAM movement?
This is a big question. I’m coming at this from the arts, and I know other Thought Leaders are coming at it from other disciplines. But, from my perspective, when talking about STEAM, we want to make sure that the arts experience has integrity as an arts experience. In other words, children are engaging in artistic thinking as part of the STEAM project, and I think the Collaborative has done a great job with that. There’s also expression, representation, and those cognitive, social, and personal areas that are part of the experience. To be STEAM, it must have some form of visual or performing arts in order to access the important arts competencies.
How do you see the Thought Leaders and the Collaborative benefitting from their work together?
Talking to people from different disciplines with different approaches is just amazing. The conversations we’ve had in our Thought Leader meetings and in our Collaborative meetings are some of the best conversations I’ve had in the last couple of years. This gives me a chance to really hear and explore things I might not have thought about, such as how someone is going to learn science or what that experience is like. This reflects on all our work and it’s one of the reasons I liked working on the LIATA project so much. We are all so focused on finishing whatever we are working on that we often don’t have the chance to step back and take a look at what it all means – why are we doing this and how we think about things more broadly. We are all so focused on the practical, but here, in the Collaborative, we also are thinking conceptually, and it’s very stimulating.
It’s also really rewarding being a Thought Leader because in these rich conversations with Thought Leaders in other disciplines, such as science education and neuroscience, we are thinking about similar issues but from different points of view. I feel that there’s a consensus that the kind of transfer we are talking about, which is very hard to capture statistically, is conceptually what we all do in a way. We all learn in one context and apply that learning in another context – that’s what life and learning is. It’s not about subject to subject, say art to STEM, though there is some of that. Instead, it’s a way of thinking about things, say, about imagination and creativity. Since our subjects do get siloed in schools, this is helping because children work across those connections, integrating artistic thinking and STEM thinking.
Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to share?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the situations we are in because of COVID. As children go back to school, the arts are more important than ever because they bring a sense of community to the school. They also create a sense of identity and a way for children to relate to each other in multifacted ways. Though it’s tough times and children need to learn the basic skills and not fall behind, they also need to be able to feel, to express and make connections, and this is where the arts are so important in developing those cognitive, social, and personal skills. We must be vigilant to make sure that the arts and these skills are kept in place. This is not just arts for the arts’ own sake, as important as that is; it’s because these competencies that the arts engender benefit so many other areas central to their development. The arts content is the pathway for the development of these important competencies. It’s these competencies that enrich children’s lives for years to come.
Resources that address Dr. Horowitz’ research:
Learning In and Through the Arts – Champions of Change
NEA Secondary Analysis of Learning In and Through the Arts
What You See Is What You Get: The Development of an Observation Strategy, VSA, Contours of Inclusion
English Language Acquisition Through Dance and Theater: Impact and Pathways
Connections: The Arts and Cognitive, Social, and Personal Development, in Partnering Arts Education: A Working Model from ArtsConnection, Dana Foundation