From September 2015 through September 2017, the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College conducted a cross-sectional study that asked, “What makes K-12 public school educators choose to use a museum as part of their curriculum?” At the time of this research, no qualitative studies—either regional or national—could be found on this subject. Studies addressing the “how” and the “what” involved in museum-school collaborations had been published, but none looked at the “why” that motivated such partnerships.
This mixed-method, regional study reflects perspectives of teachers and administrators on the museum-school collaboration dynamic after the introduction of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. It employed focus groups, online questionnaires, and personal interviews of 140 teachers and administrators working in Oneida, Herkimer, and Madison counties in New York State. Additionally, four peer academic museums were interviewed to determine best practices in the field of museum education in relation to the research topic. Two pilot programs were implemented at the Wellin Museum in response to the first year of data findings.
Ninety-five percent of respondents reported finding value in using a museum as part of their curriculum, yet 41% had never done so. Issues of time, cost, and defensibility were widely reported by teachers as detractors to museum-school collaborations. Administrators suggested programming that could be embedded in the curriculum, creating lasting partnerships that could be budgeted for and pre-scheduled annually. Professional development offerings, accommodation of large groups for tours, and in-school programming were also reportedly important to administrators.
The study determined that although the tenets of the Common Core curriculum necessary for successful museum-school collaborations are being offered readily by museums, that fact may not always be communicated clearly to K-12 educators. By using terminology that teachers and administrators recognize, museums can increase the ease of use and defensibility of their programming, thus increasing museum-school collaborations.
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