Music & Success in School

Despite numerous studies showing that music education is highly beneficial, schools across the country are cutting their music programs left and right. The idea is that music is much more disposable than "core" subjects like math and science. The No Child Left Behind Act dispels this myth, though, stating that "the term 'core academic subjects' means English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography."

Music is a cornerstone of education. It isn't just a creative outlet, either. Music develops parts of the brain involved in math and language. It's a good companion to the other more "serious" subjects. Though the struggle schools are facing now is a very serious one, and no one doubts that administrators take cutting any program very seriously, there needs to be a concerted effort to save arts education. Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas and an outspoken proponent of music programs, explains music's usefulness: "Ask a CEO what they are looking for in an employee and they say they need people who understand teamwork, people who are disciplined, people who understand the big picture. You know what they need? They need musicians."

The Georgia Project is a key example of how struggling school districts can preserve music education and the fantastic benefits that come with it. Music programs were made a priority in schools across the state, and as a result, student academic performance increased in all areas of study. Drop-out rates plummeted, students scored higher on standardized tests, and students demonstrated a greater interest in the arts in general. Enrollment in music classes grew, and for the first time in years, there was a demand for a greater variety of arts programs.

Of course, numerous scientific studies back up what Georgia school administrators discovered over the 2003-2004 school year. A Harris poll for high-school principals found that schools with music programs have higher graduation and attendance rates, and that the quality of music education increases these numbers. Schools with a program that ranked "very good" or "excellent" had an average graduation rate of 90.9%.

Perhaps the greatest indicator of music's effects is standardized testing. Standardized testing is consistent, and provides data on thousands of children. The College Board, which administers the SAT, used the student questionnaire segment of the test to analyze how arts education affected SAT performance. Those with a background in arts scored, on average, 57 points higher on the verbal portion and 43 points higher on the math portion. Scored out of 1600 points, that's a dramatic improvement.

Success and music go hand-in-hand. So many skills come out of learning music. Discipline, creativity, self-expression, multitasking, and critical thinking are just a few. It's no surprise that many of America's most successful students and adults played an instrument at some point in their lives. In fact, the American Chemical Society found that almost all of the past winners for the Siemens Westinghouse competition in Math, Science, and Technology had received some sort of instruction in music.

It's clear that anyone concerned with their children's future, the future of education, or just the future of our society in general should champion the cause of music programs in schools. Parents and teachers should find ways to incorporate music into children's daily lives. Even a small amount of music can go a long way.

Sources: "Why Music Education? 2007." National Association for Music Education. Accessed 18 Jul 2013;
No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, Title IX, Part A, Sec. 9101 (11).
Mike Huckabee, MENC Centennial Congress, Orlando, Florida, June 2007.
Executive Summary, The Georgia Project: A Status Report on Arts Education in the State of Georgia, 2004; Dr. John Benham, President, Music in World Cultures Program, Bethel University, St. Paul, MN.
Harris Interactive poll of high school principals conducted Spring 2006; funded by NAfME and NAMM.
The College Board, Profile of College-Bound Seniors National Report for 2006;
The Midland Chemist (American Chemical Society) Vol. 42, No.1, Feb. 2005.