Saturday, November 06, 2010

Music Education in Public Schools: Benefits and Challenges


-by Maria Rainier

As education funding decreases, one of the first programs to be scrapped in schools across the nation is that of music. And to justify that, we often think to ourselves that music must not have the same caliber of student benefits as math, science, English, and other “core” subjects. It’s the easiest way to view the problem, but unfortunately, it’s just not accurate. Music instruction has unbounded benefits for students, and depriving them of the opportunity to participate in a school music program could stunt their social, academic, and personal growth. The following are just some of the most important benefits enjoyed by students who receive music instruction-- irrefutable evidence that music programs in our public schools are a necessity, not a luxury.

How Students Benefit from Music Instruction

The National Association for Music Education (MENC) outlines four distinct categories of student benefits when music instruction is made available to them.

• Success in society: Mastery of arts and humanities has a direct correlation to high earnings and career success, giving students with music education an edge over those who haven’t received it. Music programs can also contribute to better student attendance in general, improved skill-building, and increased academic performance. The Texas Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse Report of 1998 found that middle school and high school students who participated in band or orchestra reported the lowest lifetime and current use of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco.

• Success in school and learning: When it comes to graduation rates, schools with music programs enjoy an 18.7% advantage over schools that don’t offer music. Students in schools with high-quality music programs also score higher on standardized tests (including the SAT) than students who have received little or no music instruction. Additionally, students who perform exceedingly well in math and science have been found to play one or more instruments, as evidenced by young musicians’ success in the Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science and Technology.

• Success in developing intelligence: Music instruction has the power to significantly improve IQ test scores. Students who have received music training also have better verbal memory and retention than their non-musical peers. Mastering a musical instrument promotes the brain’s processing of spoken language components, enabling music students to enjoy more efficient brain function in conversation.

• Success in life: Music promotes connection with the self and with others, improving education, personal development, and social interaction. It teaches students to expand their horizons, appreciate life, and challenge themselves to act as individuals in an increasingly homogeneous world.

The State of Public Music Education

Teachers in many elementary schools are being forced to borrow musical instruments from each others’ institutions, loan instruments out to students, and get creative with fundraising in order to keep their programs alive. Instrument drives are becoming more and more common as teachers become desperate to use old instruments left in attics and basements, and events like car washes and bake sales are some of the only means for sustaining music programs for many teachers. Most of the music program budget cuts being made across the country are at the elementary level, and most of these cuts completely remove music from the curriculum. This means that fewer musicians will make it to middle school, high school, and college, resulting in fewer music majors and graduate students. With private lessons as the only real music option for many young people, the field of music is headed for a significant decline.

So What’s the Excuse?

Financial constraints, pressure to raise test scores, and the general corporate attitude toward educational priorities are the major culprits for music program cuts in public education. If you ask the GOP, business is more important than the arts any day of the week, despite hard evidence that supports the positive effects of music education. The bottom line is that our right-wing decision makers are interested in getting corporate clones out of our education system. Individual creativity, personal development, and social success for our students don’t seem to be on the priority list at all. While it appears that there’s not much we can do about the problem’s origins, we can support the efforts of programs that promote music in the public schools, such as MENC, the International Society for Music Education (ISME), and local music teachers’ fundraisers.


Maria is a freelance writer/blogger. She's a resident blogger at First in Education and does research surrounding online degrees.

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