Word count: 500-700 words
Key issues and themes:
A summary of music education standards (vary by state, typical requirements, legal requirements)
Types of music programs offered in schools (such as orchestra, music appreciation, choir, variations by age/grade level)
Materials and facilities requirements
Barriers to schools providing music programs (funding, lack of instruments, space, lack of leadership support at school or district level)
Innovative solutions to some of the barriers (grant programs, PTA fundraising, community partnerships)
Research evidence for short- and long-term benefits of music education (motor skills, relation to math and language arts, educational pathways, employment/career opportunities)
Advocacy for better music programs (NAfME has Music in our Schools Month, Music for All, CAENYC)
Steps parents can take to ensure their schools are providing high quality music education
If possible, interview 1-2 teachers and students about the benefits they’ve experienced through music education
Unlike other subject areas, such as mathematics and language arts, music education standards vary greatly from state-to-state. Despite some variation most standards, like those created by the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards in music, focus on music literacy, which emphasizes responding to music as well as creating and performing.
Teacher qualifications, too, vary depending on the state in which you live. Some states, like Massachusetts, require a Master’s degree while others require only a Bachelor’s degree in an accredited program.
While different school districts will have different approaches to teaching state standards, many programs follow the same arc. In the early grades, students often learn to play by ear, responding to beat, rhythm, and pitch. As a student’s education continues, learning to read music and to perform with technical accuracy becomes increasingly important.
Course offerings, too, will vary depending on the district and how well their budget can accommodate a rich program of studies. The curriculum at Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough, Massachusetts—which includes courses ranging from string orchestra to jazz improvisation to chamber choir—enjoys a curriculum that offers variety as well as vigor. Amy Collins, the head of Algonquin’s Fine and Performing Arts Department acknowledges how fortunate her school is. “We’ve been lucky [at our school] in terms of finances. As our district’s budget gets tighter, we’ve been able to maintain our course offerings. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for many schools [across the state] who have been forced to cut music due to budget constraints.”
In recent years, much attention has been heaped onto STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. In March 2015, President Obama pledged $240 million dollars to boost the study of those fields. This comes after launching his “Educate to Innovate” initiative dedicated “to providing students at every level with the skills they need to excel in the high-paid, highly-rewarding fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.”
These endowments, however, have not spread to the arts, and as many school budgets are shrinking, so, too, are music departments. In recent years, programs in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Chicago have been threatened with severe cuts and, in some cases, elimination. By limiting the funding of these programs, officials also limit the amount of students who are exposed to quality music education. Some students may not be able to develop their skills beyond a certain point. In the case of elementary children, cutting these programs may discourage students who otherwise would pursue an interest in music.
Ask any musician why they play and they’ll likely answer the way Connor Jenks, a junior at Algonquin Regional High School, did. “Because I love it.” While this passion fuels the musician, it also benefits him in more ways than he realizes, which is precisely the danger of limiting music education.
The benefits are many—from improving cognition and attention. For students who struggle with reading, studies suggest direct training in music can help. Jenks, who was diagnosed with Dyslexia as a child, has reaped the benefits. “After being diagnosed with Dyslexia, I had to learn strategies to read and comprehend more fluidly. Learning to read music was like beginning to read all over again, which forced me to develop new strategies that I could take into the classroom.”
If you’re concerned about the quality of the music education provided in your school district there are many ways you can get involved. First, check the program of studies at your child’s school and compare it to neighboring districts. You may also consider looking at the numbers and check out your school’s budget and how much is set aside for the music department.
Even if your school district funds its music programs as well as it can, it doesn’t mean the same can be said for communities around the country. Get involved with the National Association for Music Education, Music for All, or the Vh1’s Save the Music Foundation to help spread the word about the importance of music education.
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