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Survey Shows Teachers, Parents Place Value on Music Education

Parents and teachers believe music education in schools is vital—so vital that they'd rather cut Advanced Placement classes or gym than music, according to a new study released Tuesday.

They also believe music should be a required class in middle school and that students should have a chance to learn an instrument as early as elementary school.

The study, "Striking a Chord: The Public's Hopes and Beliefs for K-12 Music Education in the United States 2015," aimed to document the attitudes and beliefs of parents and teachers about music education. It surveyed 1,000 teachers and 800 parents.

It's worth noting that arts teachers comprised just 12 percent of the sample.  The sample also included teachers of English, science, mathematics, and other subjects.

The study was funded by the NAMM Foundation, a Carlsbad, Calif.-based advocacy group for music education. It's named for one of its supporting organizations, the National Association of Music Merchants.

The survey was conducted by the Bethesda, Md., research and consulting firm Grunwald Associates LLC.

Many of the findings come as no surprise.

For example, the study found that parents and teachers think music is critical to a child's social emotional education. They want more quality music programs in schools, more professional development for teachers, and more instruments for students.

They also believe poor schools lag behind wealthier schools in the quality and quantity of music education programs, and that schools with involved parents are more likely to have music programs.

But some of the findings stand out for me.

I should first mention some caveats. This survey included just 1,800 people. So it is unclear how representative it is of the total population of parents and teachers in the United States. (You can read more about the respondents on page 27 of the report.)

It's also worth noting that the survey asked about perceptions and beliefs but didn't show how closely those perceptions reflect reality. For example, it didn't actually count how many of the students in poor schools had musical instruments.

Regardless, some of the findings were interesting.

Picking music over sports

In tough budgetary times, parents and teachers said they would rather cut Advanced Placement classes or even athletics programs than music. The sports aspect was particularly interesting because often communities see sports programs as a critical part of the public school experience, too. Respondents were asked to identify possible budget cuts in 15 different areas. They found 12 areas they would rather cut than music, including administration and standardized testing.

NAMM graph.JPG

Regional differences

The report uncovered stark regional differences in perceptions. When asked about access to music education, enrollment in music classes and minutes-per-week required for music education, teachers (and parents to a lesser degree) in the western part of the country rated their schools much lower than parents in the Northeast, Midwest or South.

The study also found music teachers in the West are less likely to have a district curriculum to follow or a music requirement for graduation in their schools. In general, there's less integration of music education with other subjects in the West as well, and parents in the West say their children are less involved in music programs outside of school.

The response from respondents in the Northeast part of the country was, for the most part, a polar opposite of that in the West. In the Northeast, respondents reported higher enrollment in music courses, more programs, more integration and more full-time music programs.

Respondents in the southern part of the country mirrored those in the West to a lesser extent.

The report did not offer further details about the regional differences nor did it offer any explanation.

Education Week reporter Liana Heitin wrote earlier this year about a California district's efforts to beef up its music program. The district hadn't had a dedicated music class in 20 years.

Other findings:

  • About 1 in 3 parents (36 percent) said their child received one year or less of music education. One in 6 parents (16 percent) said their child had received no music education at their school.
  • Parents and teachers want music to be a required class in middle school. They also think it should be expanded to include contemporary and world music. I wrote earlier this month about some efforts toward that end.
  • African-American and Hispanic parents were more likely than Caucasian parents to enroll their children in school music programs.

You can read about some of the other key results here.

The push to revive arts education has been growing for years. Arts education has been listed as a "core academic subject" since the No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2001 (and is included in the current reauthorization proposal). But NCLB also elevated other subjects like math and reading and tied them to high-stakes tests. Consequently, many schools began cutting back on arts programs despite research suggesting potential academic benefits.

By 2010, 40 percent of high schools no longer required that students take an arts courses to graduate, according to the report, citing U.S. Department of Education statistics.

The authors of this week's study said the survey results support what art advocates have believed for years: that parents and teachers believe music education truly is essential.

 "The data couldn't be more clear," said Peter Grunwald, the president of Grunwald Associates LLC, in a statement. "Teachers and parents told us repeatedly that music is an essential part of learning, not merely an 'extracurricular activity' that can be cut when times get tough."

 The study also suggested 10 common-sense recommendations for parents, educators, and policymakers:

  • Adequately fund music and arts education for all children.
  • Require student participation in music education in middle and high school.
  • Increase awareness that federal law already designates the arts as a core academic subject.
  • Ensure that every student who wants to play music has access to an instrument of choice and can take it home to practice.
  • Close the opportunity gap by reducing disparities in music education so that all schools, geographic regions, and demographic groups have equal access to quality music education.
  • Provide professional development opportunities to all music educators—and consider integrating music into professional development for all educators.
  • Increase the scope of all elementary school music programs to include instrument instruction, music theory, and composition.
  • Increase awareness among administrators, teachers, and parents that Title I monies can be used for music education—increasing the number of programs that use these funds for music education.
  • Join the SupportMusic Coalition and align with other teacher and parent groups to ensure all children have access to quality music education.
  • Conduct additional research to understand perceptions of music education.

Graph is courtesy of Striking a Chord: The Public's Hopes and Beliefs for K-12 Music Education in the United States 2015,

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