NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Educational Value of Field Trips

September 30, 2013

Today, culturally enriching field trips are in decline. Museums across the country report a steep drop in school tours. For example, the Field Museum in Chicago at one time welcomed more than 300,000 students every year. Recently the number is below 200,000. Between 2002 and 2007, Cincinnati arts organizations saw a 30 percent decrease in student attendance. A survey by the American Association of School Administrators found that more than half of schools eliminated planned field trips in 2010-2011, say Jay P. Greene, Daniel H. Bowen and Brian Kisida of the University of Arkansas.

The decision to reduce culturally enriching field trips reflects a variety of factors.

  • Financial pressures force schools to make difficult decisions about how to allocate scarce resources.
  • Greater focus on raising student performance on math and reading standardized tests.
  • Some schools believe that student time would be better spent in the classroom preparing for the exams.
  • Schools take students to amusement parks, sporting events, and movie theaters instead of to museums and historical sites.

The benefits of a field trip:

  • Research suggests that students actually retain a great deal of factual information from their field trips. Students who received a tour of a museum were able to recall details about the paintings they had seen at very high rates.
  • Visiting a museum exposes students to a diversity of ideas, peoples, places and time periods. That broadening experience imparts greater appreciation and understanding.
  • Perhaps the most important outcome of a school tour is whether it cultivates an interest among students in returning to cultural institutions in the future.

Children shouldn't just acquire work skills from their education; they should also develop into civilized people who appreciate the breadth of human accomplishments. The school field trip is an important tool for meeting this goal.

Source: Jay P. Greene, Daniel H. Bowen and Brian Kisida, "The Educational Value of Field Trips," Education Next, Winter 2014.


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