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Closing the Gap: How Policy and Perception have impacted Museum-School Collaboration

Posted By Julia Kennedy, Wednesday, December 09, 2015
Updated: Monday, December 07, 2015

Studying with the University of Leicester (UK) as an American has given me a global perspective of the role that museums play within our society. Coming to completion of my degree for an MA in Museum Studies, I wanted to research a topic for my dissertation that showed how museums can make a difference in our communities. I started out my journey looking at the effects that educational policy, most notably No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Common Core had on museums, and subsequently their collaborations with schools. Diving into the literature and working with George Washington’s Mount Vernon as a case study, I began to notice that the problem was more like a web, and furthermore had some large gaps in it.


Many studies have been conducted to approximate the effects NLCB and changes to educational policy have had on museums. Many of these studies talk about the effect quantitatively, focusing on a decrease in overall student visitors, and declining field trip reservations. Museum literature debates over the effectiveness of field trips and other programming, often hearing the complaint from teachers that they don’t align well enough to SOLs and other curriculum standards. Education departments within museums have been prioritizing learners and teachers from the beginning when creating new programming, often advertising them alongside specifically cited standards.


Throughout my literature review it became apparent that there was an overall turn in museum pedagogy away from a collections-centered experience and an increase in the time dedicated to visitors, specifically K-12 programming that aligned with new standards. Simultaneously, public schools felt the weight of policy, restricting their time dedicated to outside resources. This gap created should seemingly be able to be fixed with dedicated partnerships fostered between museums and schools. Museum literature, the IMLS, and AAM have pushed for these collaborations for nearly a decade - but how come so little collaborations are formed? Or of the successful partnerships created, why aren’t many sustainable?


One major factor seems to be communication and the perception of museums. The historic function of the museum sector as a collections for the elite, seem to be hindering its current potential to be a resource for teachers. The division is still apparent today at the federal level with museums lacking a unified legislative power. Museums are scattered between different departments. The IMLS serves as an agency but it or any other museum is rarely consulted on topics it could help provide insight on - namely, education. In the museum context we mostly see ourselves as educational institution that can provide both informal and formal learning, but if the public, or school administrators and teachers, and government officials don’t see us as such, can the communication gap really close and effective collaborations begin.


Working with Mount Vernon I’ve been able to shadow their department, follow along with current programming, and look through the archived meeting minutes of the educational department to follow historically the change in the education department - watching programs being created with students and teachers in mind. The other part of my research is a survey conducted with both museum professionals, as well as teachers and school administrators. This study will gather information about museum education, communication, and public perception in regards to VA and DC metro museums. of If you would like to participate in this brief survey and give voice to this issue - please participate here:


Historically, museums have constantly re-defined their mission and expanded their role in society. It is important that museums continue to advocate for their educational role in local learning communities, despite barriers like policy. How is your institution helping to bridge the gap and bring resources to schools?


Captions (top to bottom): Teachers from Kentucky and Missouri learning about Teaching with Space while overlooking the Potomac River at Mount Vernon. Attendees of the Mount Vernon Teachers Institute getting ready to learn about Teaching with Objects in the classroom from the Archaeological staff.

Tags:  Mount Vernon  Museum Education  No Child Left Behind  Teacher Institutes  University research  Virginia Association of Museums 

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