Much has been said about music education and how it affects a student’s academic achievement, provides a creative outlet for students, and makes a positive impact on students’ behavior. Despite this information, many school districts have relegated music to after-school programs and clubs.
In December of 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law, thus officially recognizing music as part of a well-rounded education. This action supported what proponents of the arts have known for years—that music makes a quantifiable difference in the lives of students.
What impact will this new mandate have on education in the United States? How will school districts fit music back into an already-full school day?
School districts have been working to do more with less funding for decades. As budgets shrunk, schools removed music programs from classroom lesson plans and began to offer music in a limited capacity, if they offered it at all.
Today, several schools within a district often must share music teachers, who have to teach on a rotational basis, offering music classes to elementary school students once a week for half a year. Instead of being an integral part of the classroom, music is now an “elective” that students can choose.
New York schools provide a glaring example of how cutting music programs affects students. When federal funding for arts education dried up, New York City turned to cultural institutions within the city to pick up the slack. These organizations developed clubs, after-school programs and other creative means of offering students art and music educational opportunities.
This method was successful for 20 years, until the school board wrote funding for arts curriculum into the budget. Within 10 years, the art education budget was absorbed into the general curriculum budget, and the arts were once again eliminated from the school day. A 2014 report revealed that 10 percent of New York City schools didn’t even have a dedicated art or music classroom, and 28 percent of schools lacked a full-time arts teacher.
The problem is not limited to New York City schools, however. A 2008 national study revealed that only 57% of students attended classes at a school that offered music education as part of their weekly learning. Twenty-three states reported cutting their art education budgets in 2011, and budget forecasts have not improved in the last five years. Therefore, it is unlikely that the budget will suddenly make room for art and music class anytime soon.
As a result, two generations of American students have grown up without any meaningful instruction in the arts or any knowledge of their cultural importance. Today’s students lack any understanding of the significance of music and art in their lives, and they have limited experience with using the arts to express themselves.
To comply with the newly mandated ESSA standard, states must look for ways to include music education despite limited budgets. One method that many states have successfully implemented is fostering cooperative programs between universities and public schools to make it easier for professionals working in the creative arts to become certified teachers.
School systems must think creatively and purposefully to bring the arts back into the classroom. While partnership agreements between local cultural institutions and schools have proven successful, we must explore them further. The Florida Art Education Association, for example, developed a program to provide visual art educators with tools, resources, and support necessary to raise the quality of instruction. In addition, the Dallas-based organization Learning Partners connects thousands of elementary school teachers to local cultural institutions, helping them take advantage of the area’s arts resources.
Today’s classroom has changed. The elementary music teacher who visits with records and rhythm instruments is likely a relic of the past and will not return. Advancements in technology have changed the process of how people create music, thus providing students with a wide range of new musical experiences.
Educators must work together to find ways to offer students both the experience of the arts and the value of instructive lessons about the cultural importance of them. While not impossible, this task is daunting. The result, however, will be worth it. Because of this, parents and educators must work together continue to push legislators for arts funding and to stress the importance of including instruction in the arts in school curricula.