Through the years, art and music classes have fallen low on the priority list in schools feeling the pressure to focus on improving test scores. However, supporters of music education have responded to the pressure by pointing out the academic benefits of learning music. Advocates for the program say the benefits include better grades and improved attendance, and that there are virtues of music that will not show up in a test.
Sarah McCammon of NPR Music reported on one music teacher, Chris Miller, and his focus on teaching his students the basics like musical concepts, artists and the styles of music.
Principal Sharon Draeger was a teacher in the 90’s at Haven Elementary School in Savannah, GA and says that current students get about four hours a month in Music. When she was a teacher at the school, she said the music program had a good chorus and was higher on the priority list.
Subjects like reading and math are a big focus of the Common Core standards adopted by Georgia and all but a handful of other states. Draeger says she can’t give music the focus she’d like: “We try to squeeze it in when we can, where we can.”
According to Draeger, her school has many students who struggle with testing, and that funding is a constant challenge. Chris Woodside of the National Association for Music Education says this is becoming more and more common.
“It is incredibly valuable that kids improve their reading skills,” Woodside says, “or grade-point averages, or spatial reasoning through access to music education. But those are just the icing on the cake.”
Woodside says the goal behind his new campaign, Broader Mind, is to see teachers talking less about tests and more about the “intrinsic benefits of music” the campaign will focus on the fact that music helps kids be more creative, and become better at working in groups.
Education policy expert at the Brookings institution, Russ Whitehurst disagrees. According to a 2010 U.S. Department of Education report, even if the allotted time is being cut, that 94% of public elementary schools offer music.
Whitehurst says the number of schools teaching music has held steady over the course of a decade. “I think music teachers are crying wolf, largely, if you look at the national trends,” he says. “The perception that somehow kids are being drilled in reading and math all day doesn’t line up with the facts.”
According to Miller, music needs to be an essential part of education, not an extra program, and that is one goal that music education advocates will agree on and continue to work to achieve.