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94% of elementary schools and 91% of secondary schools offered specific music designated instruction in the 2009-10 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistic’s Arts Education Study. 

In an economy with education monies shrinking like clothes left too long in the drier, the fact that more than 90% of all schools still offer music education, sometimes considered a superfluous cost, seems exceptional. This statistic may lead us to believe that educators are listening to the data that proves music education makes better students. Here are a few findings from the National Endowment of for the Arts study of The Arts and Achievement of At-Risk Youth
      Students with arts-rich experiences showed higher overall GPAs than students without those experiences.
      Students who earned many arts credits were five times more likely to graduate than students with few or no arts credits.
      Both 8th-grade and high school students who had high levels of arts engagement were more likely to aspire to college than were students with less arts engagement.
      Students who had intensive arts experiences in high school were three times more likely than students who lacked those experiences to earn a bachelor’s degree. They also were more likely to earn “mostly A’s” in college.

While the majority of students in the United States have access to public music education, there is a wide range of quality of that education. An NPR blog post on the same topic sheds some light on the disparity between what schools offer and what students actually receive. Richard Kessler, Dean of Mannes College The New School of Music and former Executive Director of The Center for Arts Education notes, “What the data isn’t telling you is that you can have schools where there is one music teacher and 1,000 students. Some of those students are going to get music and some of those students aren’t.”

The recent studies break down music education according to socioeconomic status (SES) of the schools. SES is determined by the percentage of students in a school district that qualify to receive free and reduced-cost lunch. According to the chart below, it is clear to see that as poverty increases, access to music instruction, arts specialists, number of music classes, a district curriculum guide, and dedicated music rooms decrease.

Chart from NCES Arts Education Report
At a quick glance, Steamboat Springs appears to be relatively high in SES. Yet, poverty numbers are on the rise. An article in the Steamboat Today dated October 5, 2011 discusses the free and reduced-cost lunch program. According to the article, “In October 2010, the Steamboat Springs School District had 280 students, or 13 percent of its overall student enrollment, in the free and reduced-cost lunch program. As of this year’s October 1 student count, 382 students were signed up to receive free or reduced-cost lunches. That number represents 17 percent of the district’s student population.” Expand the scope to include all of Routt county and the poverty numbers increase to 40% in Hayden and South Routt.

Courtesy of the Steamboat Today

While Steamboat Springs does not demonstrate extreme poverty, the district does exhibit characteristics of low income schools. Sarah Bainter Cunningham, Executive Director of Research for Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts and the NEA’s former Director of Arts Education, speaks about low income schools and the arts. “We start to see an achievement gap not only where fewer low income schools have the arts, but where there are fewer kinds of music courses. Music teachers have to collaborate more with classroom teachers, they’re traveling between more schools, spreading themselves thin and perhaps have less time to perform themselves.”  

This statement accurately describes the music education department of Steamboat Springs Middle and High School. Instrumental students have limited music class choices of either concert band or jazz band. There is no orchestra, string program, or audition only ensembles. The only small group ensemble is percussion with no other specialized performance options for other instruments. Additionally, one band director is responsible for both the middle school and the high school, meaning that students receive less individualized instruction time. The music program has continued to grow, with record numbers this year and an expected retention rate of 100% for the 2012-13 school year. The student to teacher ratio continues to increase, which means overflowing classes and fewer chances for individualized instruction.  

While supplemental music education programs, such as Strings School Days, help boost what kids get in school, it’s not a replacement for every day music instruction. In order to provide our youth with skills to make them successful adults, we must continue to advocate for public music instruction in Routt County.

Posted on April 18, 2012
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