Music is a tool that brings people together.
For years school districts have cut music and the arts. With Covid, one would think there would be a renewed effort to bolster school music programs to lift the spirits of children and families. Music would help to achieve diversity and equity in public education. But school music programs remain in trouble.
According to Save the Music:
The approximately 15,000 districts serving 5 million students in places with schools cutting music programs are predominantly in school districts that serve black, immigrant, and low-income student populations.
Much of the problem centers on small charter schools that cannot sustain a music program for students.
The curriculum is changing to reflect social-emotional learning, but strengthening music instruction and returning the arts to all public schools, especially with the Covid pandemic, is rarely mentioned. What could be more helpful to a child’s social-emotional health than both listening to and playing music?
Music lifts students, and it’s well known that it improves academic achievement. Parents are proud to observe their children’s creativity. Without music, schools are a shell of what they could be for students and the community.
Music also leads to jobs.
We know how important music is to child development.
Watching marching bands during a Memorial Day parade or a football halftime show, and attending concerts open to the public throughout the year, help us become positively vested with local public schools.
We see upfront where tax dollars go and get to enjoy the entertainment.
Since No Child Left Behind, the bad news is that schools have focused on high-stakes assessments and academics.
The Every Student Succeeds Act is supposed to provide Title I money for music in schools, but there’s no time for it, and students and teachers are data points. There’s no incentive involving corporate school reform for music or marching bands.
Parents and teachers understand that the loss of music in schools is a loss for students and the community. It’s a surefire way to end public schools. Here are a few places where it’s happening.
Detroit has tried to reinstate art classes and instrumental music, but many schools still go without the arts.
Grand Forks, ND
In Grand Forks, music teachers rally the community to fight school budget cuts that will leave schools without music. They’re trying to help parents and the community see that music develops a good work ethic in students.
One mother who is a pediatrician states: It’s important that kids have an opportunity to do things that don’t get them in trouble.
They shouldn’t have to offer reasons why music is necessary. Americans have to understand by now how critical music is for everyone.
Teachers went on strike this past week in Scranton, the President’s hometown.
According to Barbara Madeloni, the school board cuts educators’ health insurance, PreK education, and the arts, including music and libraries. In return, the board, which seems to lack any insight about cause and effect, wants bigger class sizes and longer days.
New Orleans, LA
In New Orleans, music is a way of life, but music instruction became a memory when schools converted to charters after Katrina. Charter schools are not large enough to include bands.
Students now rely on music nonprofits to ensure that some students have access.
New York City
It’s hard to believe that New York, like New Orleans, silenced music in poor schools.
According to The New York Times:
Between 2002 and 2013, New York City closed 69 high schools, most of them large schools with thousands of students, and in their place opened new, smaller schools.
And like New Orleans, smaller schools mean that students have no access to the numbers necessary to make a band.
Guest columnist Lianna Magerr writes in Open Call: Wilmington Children’s Chorus empowers young people to inspire change:
In some cases, schools and organizations used the pandemic as the excuse they’d been waiting for to cut music and arts programs altogether. This is a tragedy, as there has never been a more crucial time in history to raise up our next generation of leaders to be inspired and creative. There is no better way to do this than to fill their lives with art and music.
How many students no longer have access to music? How are the music programs where you live?
Music brings people together and teaches students how to get along and support one another. It’s time America invests in music for all students. It is time we make the world a happier place.
Block, S. and Taylor, K. (2018, May 2013).In New York High Schools, the Sound of Music Is Muted. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/13/nyregion/nyc-music-high-school.html.
Beth Hankoff says
As a music major I have to agree! All of the arts enhance learning and uncover talents in children who don’t fit inside the box into which our schools try to fit them.
Where I live, music programs are spotty. When my younger son attended public elementary school (2009-2013) the kids had a walk-a-thon to keep the music program going. It was a big event with vendors, prizes, etc. My son and I were very involved and had a good time, but children should not have to fund their own school programs.
Fortunately, when he got to high school, they had just started a phenomenal music program. One of the math teachers had noticed the unused instruments and band room and begged them to start a music program. He had to start it as an after school club, for which he got no pay. When they saw what he could do, they agreed to fund the program.
As an example of how powerful music can be in the life of a young person, there was a kid who was failing high school his freshman year. His mother told me she had been at a loss. Nothing was working and she was afraid he would never graduate. He enrolled in Beginning Band as an elective, which sounds like it would be marching band, but it’s actually rock band. At first he could barely play a bell on the beat, but in that class you try every instrument including singing. This young man is an incredible singer! He’s also a great guitar player.
As he started to hone his talents, the band teacher got wind of his academic problems. They made a deal that he needed to bring his grades up to stay in band. This is his senior year, let’s just say he has never had to leave band.
Nancy Bailey says
Beth, thank you for sharing your experience. I love how the student you described found joy in music, continued to stay in school and hopefully will graduate soon. How many students, sadly, do not have that option?
I hope others read what you wrote here. It presents a justification for music in every school. Thank you!
Sheila Resseger says
I agree completely with the absolute necessity for music and the arts for all students of all ages. Schools have been thoughtlessly cutting music and the arts for years in their mania for higher scores in ELA and math. Tragically, many schools stopped band, orchestra, and theater due to the pandemic. I am glad to say that the small elementary charter school where my daughter teaches music, phys ed, health, and STEAM, encourages children to engage and be creative, by encouraging my daughter to use her considerable talent and sensitivity to encourage resilience and empowerment in her students.
Nancy Bailey says
I am happy your daughter is still able to teach and inspire children with music, Sheila. Think how many students will benefit.
Yet, how sad for those students who have no exposure to the arts.
Thank you for sharing.
Janene Whitney says
I am a veteran dance and English teacher who has been able to see music and the performing arts blossom, but you have to meet school leaders with data (SAT scores are much higher in performing arts students. Brain science:: open those Howard Grader books and get your teachers trained in integration of M.I
I was able to start a full classical dance program by presenting a new schedule that allowed AP students to participate in elective arts as well as students repeating classes. The AP students tutored the struggling students because I rotated numbers during rehearsals. I worked 10-6. with kids in fully accredited dance classes, so another teacher could share my room in the morning, saving on facilities space. This public school then formed academies (science, Arts, etc) where the academic teachers and art teachers would teach their subjects from the same era in history. We had a 99% graduarion rate, and the kids formed families at school for 4 years. You have to give schools the success they want in data, save them money, facility space, and up graduation rates at the same time.
Later, I taught in an elementary school in Seattle that had “arts rich education”, Every subject the kids were learning about was learned in music class (we did a musical about plants that mirrored that grade’s curriculum in science), dance (history and cultures are in classroom curriculum also). Math (music and dance both use counting beats and measures, etc), and EL (dances that tell stories while speakers read their work), etc.
The arts were integrated in the classroom in every subject. Some of the best successes came from the special education students who expanded their social skills and felt success through multiple modalities. The choir teacher had a 65-student choir that met before school every morning. That is engagement, and hundreds of studies show that engagement in the arts keeps kids in school and succeeding. But you must teach school boards this research and offer rewards like an academic success to administrators. These creative integrations work in upper middle class schools and school with diverse populations and have kids that have experienced trauma. . Arts create a level and common ground for all, therefore also meeting SEL and equity requirements. Come on advocates—use these state standards rewards to boost music, dance, and art. Sadly, we cannot just say how the arts allow expression, etc.
Nancy Bailey says
This is well-stated. Thank you, Janene!
“Arts create a level and common ground for all, therefore also meeting SEL and equity requirements.”
I especially love the above statement.
Roy Turrentine says
I have a good friend whose children were having trouble focusing on the more plodding of the necessary aspects of education. Discipline was all external, the heart was willing but the mind had to be pulled along. Enter music lessons. They became universally more capable of learning in every way, maturing in their personal and academic lives.
My former principal often recounts the way school was before he got the funding for a band. The creative kids were spending more time in his office than in class. All the disciplinary methods he tried were a failure. Enter the band. These same kids no longer seemed to make their way to his office. Numbers of disciplinary incidents declined.
Nancy Bailey says
What a wonderful account about the importance of the band.
I was a flute player during concert band and majorette during marching band. I took both roles seriously. I have fond memories and can’t look at the Friday night football game lights without remembering those times. Although once I got so excited marching to Everything’s Coming Up Roses that I marched right off the field and left the band behind!
Roy Turrentine says
they should have kept up with you. Sometimes the different drummer in our head moves us in the right direction
Nancy Bailey says
LOL! I wish the band director thought that. Although he was understanding as I recall. Thanks, Roy.
Paul Bonner says
When I was a child in the 1960s and 70s, the visual arts and music, particularly band, kept me interested in school when I was too immature to value academic achievement. My rendering ability and success with the trumpet showed me that I could be successful, and by secondary school I translated that success to academics. We all have individual passions that, if properly nurtured, can lead to rich adult lives. If we fail to expose children to the wonders of the world through the arts, then such passion will go unfulfilled and society as a whole will suffer.
Nancy Bailey says
Absolutely. You expressed what it is I fear for children and teens. How wonderful that you were able to experience playing the trumpet. My flute playing in the band led me to love music, and while my baton twirling led mostly to bumps on my head, the confidence it instilled in me during high school was helpful. These experiences, as you say, help us to lead richer lives. What will students without those experiences have?