Professor and director of Art and Art Education, Columbia University Teachers College, Burton received her Ed.D. from Harvard University. She researches the artistic-aesthetic development of children, adolescents, and young adults, and the implications this has for teaching and learning and the culture in general. In 1995 she co-founded the Center for Research in Arts Education and in 1996 founded the Heritage School, a comprehensive high school featuring the arts.
She received the Manuel Barkan Award for excellence in research writing, the Lowenfeld and Eisner Awards for lifetime achievement in art education and the Ziegfeld Award for services to international art education. She is a member of the Royal Society of Arts, UK, and a distinguished professor of The Central Academy of Fine Arts, China.