Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Education Policy (PhD)

Degree Level



Education Reform


Patrick J. Wolf

Committee Member

Jay P. Greene

Second Committee Member

Elizabeth H. Margulis


Social sciences, Communication and the arts, Education, Arizona, Art, Critical thinking, Cultural capital, Experimental methods, Science, Science capital


A significant portion of the education children receive occurs outside of the traditional classroom and produces outcomes not typically captured by standardized achievement tests. This dissertation is part of an effort to expand the educational venues and outcomes educational researchers rigorously examine. In particular, I present the key results from experimental studies of the effects of school tours to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR., and to the Museum of Discovery in Little Rock, AR.

Chapter 1 focuses on arts exposure and critical thinking outcomes. A problem for the arts’ role in education has been a lack of rigorous scholarship that demonstrates educational benefits. A component of this problem has been a lack of available data. Analyzing original data collected through a randomized controlled trial of students visiting the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, I find positive effects of art museum visits on students’ ability to critically examine a work of art.

Chapter 2 examines the theories of cultural reproduction and cultural mobility. Drawing upon the experimental data from the Crystal Bridges evaluation, I show that students’ exposure to a cultural institution has the effect of creating “cultural consumers” motivated towards acquiring new cultural capital. Importantly, we find that the experience has the strongest impact on students from more disadvantaged backgrounds. As such, the intervention supports the theory of cultural mobility.

Finally, Chapter 3 experimentally examines the effects of students visiting a science museum. Many education policymakers are searching for ways to increase students’ competency and interest in science. Existing research, however, suggests that classroom instruction and content knowledge alone may not adequately cultivate an interest in science or increase aspirations for careers in science. In this paper I experimentally test how a school visit to a science museum alters students’ attitudes towards science and future career aspirations. I find that there are positive effects from exposure to a science museum for students, though the effects seem to be especially strong for boys.

These findings have important policy implications for whether schools should devote their scarce resources to school tours of cultural institutions and for which types of students these experiences may be most important.