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Samuel Woodruff

Alison Fernley

English 1010

November 28, 2018

A Discussion on Music Education in Public Schools

Music has been a part of human existence since the beginning. The Ancient Greek

philosopher Plato once said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to

imagination, and life to everything” (qtd. in Kaliventrenos). The love for music and ability to

perform it has been passed down generation by generation and naturally became part of the

education curriculum for all students. In the United States, the public education system places

music education among “the arts”. According to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), music is

one of the core subjects to a child’s education (Kaliventrenos).

Music education programs in the United States public education system has changed

over time, mainly by reducing the amount of time and money allocated to music. An article by

John Kratus, a music educator at Michigan State University, presents an example of the

changes happening in California between 1999-2004. He states that during that time, the

California schools experienced a loss of 50% of the music education courses and a loss of

26.7% of music teachers. Despite the NCLB including music as an important subject, the

application of the act affected the distribution of funding away from music to support math and

English programs instead (Kratus). McMammon provides evidence that not all schools are

suffering as dramatically with his quote of Russ Whitehurst: “... a 2010 U.S. Department of

Education report... found 94 percent of public elementary schools offer some kind of music

classes, even if hours are being cut back in many places.” Music education in public schools

has the potential to change, either for the better or worse, according to the opinions of the
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community surrounding the schools. This paper will explore the following points: the importance

of music education in public schools, whether or not music programs are sufficient in their

current format, and if found lacking, what can be done to improve public music education.

Music education has many benefits to children in developing years. One of the strongest

arguments for having music programs in public schools is that the study of music has been

shown to increase students IQ and test scores. A study done by E. Glenn Schellenberg in 2004

at the University of Toronto followed a three groups of 6-year old children. One group was given

a year of music classes, one group a year of theater classes, and the final group did not receive

any additional classes. The children in the music classes had an increase of three IQ points,

while the other children did not (Brown). Another study followed 25,000 students over 10 years

and found that students with music education scored an average of 33-44 points higher on the

SAT exams than students with no music education (Kalivretenos). Reasons behind this increase

of success for musically educated students is the fact that music students use “more of [their]

brain…[and] have larger growth of neural activity…” (Brown). Music not only helps students

academically, but also socially and emotionally. Music education helps students to develop

friendships and practice teamwork. Creativity is an essential skill that can be fostered and

nurtured through music classes.

Despite all the evidence that music education has multiple benefits for students, the

debate still exists of whether or not music should be a part of the school day. Music in public

schools allow students to have greater access to music exposure than otherwise would occur.

With “increasing importance placed on standardized testing, there is not enough class time to

include music classes... However, it has been shown that the time students spend in music

classes does not hinder their academic success,” (Kalivretenos). A dedicated time slot to music

education during the school day allows students to take a break from the intensity of STEM

(Science, Technology, English and Math) classes to express creativity while still exercising their

brains in a healthy way.

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The current music programs offered at public schools are not sufficiently meeting the

needs of students. Kratus states quite plainly that music education is behind the times. Music is

an ever evolving, changing thing and the methodology of music education has not been

changing along with it. “In his classic comedy Annie Hall, filmmaker Woody Allen remarks that

relationships are like sharks: they have to keep moving forward or they die. The same could be

said of a number of things, including music education,” (Kratus). The way that the music

program has thus evolved is to change into a stagnant, poorly funded, elective class, easily

brushed aside or forgotten. Michael Wall demonstrates the poor structure of current music

programs: “While there are many wonderful and creative arts programs, there are some that are

product driven, as in band programs with an over-reliance on competitions and performances.

Many of these types of traditional instrumental music programs focus primarily on method books

and leave little, if any, room for creative work.” Wall shows that the traditional structure for a

class, such as band or orchestra, does not meet the creative needs of students. Others argue

that the classical nature of a structured music class is traditional and best. A growing number of

schools lack the funding and the associated emotional investment to even have a proper

classroom for a music class. Sarah McMammon of National Public Radio interviewed music

teacher Chris Miller, whose class is housed in a mobile classroom. At the same elementary

school the principal laments, “We try to squeeze it in when we can, where we can,”

(McMammon). Overall, music programs are insufficient as is. They need to be updated and

reinvigorated to keep up with today’s social climate and to satisfy the creative needs of the


The ideal music class would have more room for creativity. The individual voice in the

music class is lost somewhat in the traditional setting, where the class as a whole learns a

piece. While this is a good approach for building the ensemble, students need to feel they have

a creative voice and are able to influence the group. In an interview with Crystal Sands, Tim

Garrett says, “I teach everyone differently based on what is best for them. There’s some
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psychology to it. You have to be able to discern what the student is feeling. What they’re feeling

will come right out of the f-holes [of the cello],” (Sands). The emotion behind the student is

evident in the performance, but the class should tailor more to what the individual student wants

to play or express. Michael Wall provides many suggestions to changing the class for the better.

Creativity and individual biases can be nurtured by encouraging students to help select music

for the class to play, or better yet, write their own songs for the class to perform. Having the

class practice group improvisation and experimentation can bring a multitude of beneficial

opportunities for the students. Such experiences build trust in each other and encourage others

to show creativity. Changes such as these will bring a new life into the music programs at the

public schools and allow the students to have a healthy setting to express themselves amidst

the stress of the school day.

While these radical changes may not happen immediately, we can work to improve the

perception of music education and make it a better overall experience. Music education is

beneficial for students, not just academically or neurologically, but on a personal level. Music

education done right, can impact a student profoundly; it can encourage a student to try

something new and to help a student discover who they are. “The benefit of music education for

me is about being musical. It gives you a better understanding of yourself. The horizons are

higher when you are involved in music,” (Brown). The current confines of the music classroom

limit the musical experience of the student. Since the traditional music class environment is

insufficient in meeting today’s needs, music programs are suffering.

The funding is drying up and the results are that fewer courses are being offered,

leading to the point where we are today, that the music program is on the verge of collapse.

Much of the funding is dictated by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which is supposed to

include the arts as a important subject. An example of the results of budget costs include: “

Indiana,the elementary instrumental music program was ultimately eliminated, as well as nine

teaching positions…” (Gerrity). However, it is not just music suffering the budget costs; dance,
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theater, visual arts, sculpture and such - each of these are being dropped from the school

systems just as readily as the music programs are. Individuals who are creative by nature are

being left out of a dominant analytical and left brained approach to education. Gerrity’s example

occurred in 2007, similar cutbacks and elimination affected other schools nationwide.

Fortunately, legislative has noticed and made efforts to repair and hopefully reverse the

negative effects of NCLB. Three years ago lawmakers passed the “Every Child Achieves Act of

2015”. This act “retains the core academic subject section from No Child Left Behind, and,

additionally adds ‘music’ as a specifically enumerated core academic subject,” (Hurlburt). This

new act will hopefully direct much needed funding and attention to music classes in schools


The changes suggested by Wall along with other innovative ideas might be the thing

needed to break the shell of the stale music classroom and allow new life and vigor to enter the

music programs. Classical music is beautiful and deserving to be taught, but students also

deserve the chance to have music programs that allow greater creativity and expression. The

influencers for change include the entire community surrounding the schools. The teachers, the

students, the parents, and board members all have an opportunity to be an advocate for

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Brown, Laura Lewis. “The Benefits of Music Education.” PBS Parents, Public

Broadcasting Service. 25 May 2012.

arts/the-benefits-of-music-education/ Accessed 19 November 2018.

Gerrity, Kevin W. “No Child Left behind: Determining the Impact of Policy on Music

Education in Ohio.” Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, no. 179,

2009, pp. 79–93. JSTOR, Accessed 7 December 2018.

Hurlburt, Catherina. “A New Day for Music Education that Ensures ‘Every Child

Achieves’.” National Association for Music Education. 7 April 2015.

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new-day-for-music-education-that-ensures-every-child-achieves/#comments Accessed 7

December 2018.

Kalivretenos, Alexis. “The Importance of Music Education.” The, 18

March 2015. Accessed

19 November 2018.

Kratus, John. “Music Education at the tipping point.” Sage Journals, vol. 94, no. 2, pp.

42-48, 2007. Date accessed: Nov 12,


McMammon, Sarah. “Music Education for Creativity, Not a Tool for Test Scores.” All

Things Considered, National Public Radio. 18 February 2014. Transcript.

test-scores Accessed 19 November 2018.

Sands, Crystal. “Music Speaks: How a Local Orchestra can Inspire your Child.” Bangor

Metro, vol. 14, no. 9, pp 42-45, 2018.

b=f6h&AN=132725770&site=eds-live Accessed 19 November 2018.

Wall, Michael Patrick. “Does School Band Kill Creativity? Embracing New Traditions in

Instrumental Music.” Music Educators Journal, vol. 105, no. 1, pp 51-56, 2018.

b=f6h&AN=131688891&site=eds-live Accessed 19 November 2018.

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1. Describe the feedback you got from me. Give specific details. How did you revise

your paper using this feedback?

A lot of the feedback I received was grammatical. I was able to fix those problems

easily. However, The biggest thing you asked me to do was to go in more depth about

the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). I then researched the NCLB more in depth to find

out what has been recently done. I found two sources and used them to sure answer

your question.

2. What do you think you have done best? What have you changed that you really

want me to pay attention to in this revision?

I think that my paper was presented well and showed a holistic view of the problem. I added

more examples of how the NCLB affected schools and new information of what legislation is

doing to reverse it.