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Music Education In Public Schools Gets A Passing Grade : T...

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Music Education In Public Schools Gets A Passing

APRIL 06, 2012

4:00 PM ET


Numbers they always look so solid, so reassuring, so dare I say hopeful? Earlier
this week, the U.S. Department of Education issued a new report titled Arts Education
In Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, 1999-2000 and 2009-10.
"In the 2009-10 school year, music education was almost universally available in the
nation's public elementary schools, with 94% of schools offering instruction that was
designated specifically for music," the report states. "Music instruction was available
in almost all public secondary schools," with the actual number given at 91%.
Over the last decade, these numbers have remained surprisingly steadfast. That might
seem like a cause for celebration, a victory over the doggedly narrow focus on reading
and math test scores driven by No Child Left Behind, but don't break out the vuvuzelas
just yet.

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Music Education In Public Schools Gets A Passing Grade : T...

"The disparity between what schools offer and what students actually receive can be
enormous," explains Richard Kessler, Dean of Mannes College The New School of
Music and former Executive Director of The Center for Arts Education. "What the data
isn't telling you is that you can have schools where there is one music teacher and
1000 students. Some of those students are going to get music and some of those
students aren't."
There's some evidence in the DOE study to suggest the impossibly large
student/teacher ratios Kessler describes, but you really have to hunt for it. Take Table
70, one of 165 supplemental tables: it shows that only 81% of secondary schools with
an enrollment under 500 offer music as compared to 98% of secondary schools with a
thousand students or more. Coincidence? I think not. Even if one simply uses the
DOE's enrollment numbers to calculate the number of students in schools without
music instruction at all, that's over 2.1 million children across the country likely a
conservative estimate
Teachers, veterans of the actual classrooms, paint a less rosy picture, though that
information is again largely buried in the supplementary tables. Elementary school
music specialists rated the support for their teaching "somewhat or very inadequate"
in a variety of areas: funding (40%), facilities (27%), materials, equipment, tools and
instruments (23%), instructional time in the arts (28%) and the number of arts
specialists (36%).
At the secondary school level the numbers were not encouraging. The percentage of
teachers indicating that support was "not at all adequate or minimally adequate" was
even higher: instructional time with students (17%), instructional resources (36%),
orchestra and band instruments (35%), classroom instruments (38%), classroom
equipment (39%), time for individual or collaborative planning (50%) and technology
used in the study or creation of music (65%). Music may be almost universally offered
in schools, but the issues that still need to be solved are abundant.
What the report does spell out quite clearly is the disparity between the availability of
the arts in low-poverty schools as compared to high-poverty schools. In 1999-2000, a
remarkable 100% of high-poverty secondary schools offered music instruction. That
number has fallen quite significantly to 81% today.
"We start to see an achievement gap not only where fewer low income schools have the
arts, but where there are fewer kinds of music courses. [Their] music teachers have to
collaborate more with classroom teachers, they're traveling between more schools,

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Music Education In Public Schools Gets A Passing Grade : T...

spreading themselves thin and perhaps have less time to perform themselves," says
Sarah Bainter Cunningham, Executive Director of Research for Virginia
Commonwealth University's School of the Arts and the NEA's former Director of Arts
Education. "You see a lot of the low-income schools using arts integration [with
academic subjects] and offering fewer courses in music. Some people might say that
arts integration is wonderful, but it's not so wonderful if it's their solution to the
problem that they have fewer fulltime teachers."
During the announcement of the report at Miner Elementary School in Washington,
Education Secretary Arne Duncan pointed out why the persistence of this arts
opportunity gap is especially troubling.
"First," he said, "children from disadvantaged backgrounds, students who are English
language learners and students with disabilities often do not get the enrichment
experiences of affluent students anywhere except at school. And second, a
considerable body of research suggests that disadvantaged students especially benefit
from high-quality arts education including an important new study from the
National Endowment for the Arts on 'The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth' that
relies on robust, longitudinal data."
The NEA report, released last week, shows that high levels of arts engagement by the
lowest socioeconomic quarter of students corresponds with greater numbers of
students who, for example, complete high school calculus, exercise the right to vote, do
volunteer work, finish a Bachelor's degree and choose a professional career path. In
short, the arts help create young adults who have better academic outcomes, are more
civically engaged and exhibit higher career goals. Think about how the world could
change if we could teach music to the 2.1 million students currently denied that
opportunity that would be worthy of a vuvuzela fanfare.


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Music Education In Public Schools Gets A Passing Grade : T...

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