Profile: Kathleen Thomas
Economists, much like accountants and engineers, many times see the world as "strictly-by-the-numbers." Kathleen Thomas is definitely a numbers cruncher, but her research also takes her into the world of arts education.
A Mississippi State economist specializing in education policy and an associate professor in the College of Business, Thomas' most recent research focuses on access to visual arts, music, theatre and dance in public high school education, and how participation in the arts impacts achievement.
"Access to arts education is unequal across public schools in the United States, but the extent of that inequality has not been studied. We know that the students with the least opportunity to study the arts are low-income and minority students, but how access varies from state to state is still uncertain," she explained.
Thomas and her fellow researchers used student-level data from Texas to look at the number of courses offered in the arts and student participation rates for 870 public high schools.
"Our conclusion was that high schools offering a large number of arts courses don't necessarily cultivate high rates of student participation in arts education. And schools fostering high levels of student participation don't necessarily have the resources to provide their students with a broad and deep curriculum in the arts," she said of her work that is affiliated with the Texas Schools Project at the University of Texas at Dallas.
As a policy analyst, Thomas hopes her research, funded by a grant from the Spencer Foundation, can help education policymakers in other states use their own administrative education data to examine access to arts education.
"The accountability movement and recent budget cuts have hit the arts hard. Statewide evaluations will enable policymakers to see if their schools are offering sufficient arts opportunities for their students," said the Birmingham native who came to MSU in 2002. For Thomas, Mississippi State was the "natural choice" after she completed her post-doctoral work at UT-Dallas.
"I knew when I interviewed with the faculty in the Department of Finance and Economics that this was where I wanted to be," she said. When she's not teaching and conducting research, she's spending time with her two small children, Caroline and Alex, and her husband Andrew, also an economist and professor.Writer: Harriet Laird | Photo: Megan Bean
Next week … Caroline Kobia !