Music Education in Public Schools: Various Programs and Benefits

Whether it’s a sweet voice singing in a choir or the frantic beating of a drum set, children can learn a great deal through music.

While many schools incorporate some level of music education into their curriculum, the requirements, teacher qualifications, and funding varies by institution. Read on to learn more about what you can expect from your child’s in-school music program.

Overview

Unlike other subject areas, such as mathematics and language arts, music education standards vary significantly from state to state. In spite of these differences, most music standards, such as those created by the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards, focus on music literacy — that is, a comprehensive curriculum that emphasizes creating, performing, and responding to music.

Teacher qualifications also vary according to the state in which you teach. Some, like Massachusetts, require a master’s degree in music education, while others require only a bachelor’s degree, even if it is in an unrelated field, accompanied with teacher preparation courses. While all states require public school teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree and have some pedagogical training, private schools do not necessarily require that their teachers be licensed.

Music Program

Different school districts have their own approaches to teaching state standards, though many programs follow the same general arc for music education. In the early grades, students often learn to play by ear, responding to beat, rhythm, and pitch. As they get older, music teachers introduce students to the skill of reading music and performing with increasing technical accuracy.

Course offerings, too, will vary by district and budgeting constraints. In districts with ample resources, such as that of Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough, Massachusetts, the curriculum may include courses ranging from string orchestra to jazz improvisation to chamber choir.

Amy Collins, the head of Algonquin’s Fine and Performing Arts Department, acknowledges how fortunate her school is. “We’ve been lucky in terms of finances. As our district’s budget gets tighter, we’ve been able to maintain our course offerings. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for many schools [across the state] that have been forced to cut music due to budget constraints.”

How Budgets Affect Music Education Programs

In recent years, much attention has been paid to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education. In March 2015, President Obama pledged $240 million dollars to boost study in these fields. This additional funding was provided on top of launching the federal “Educate to Innovate” initiative, dedicated “to providing students at every level with the skills they need to excel in the high-paid, highly-rewarding fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.”

This financial support, however, has not spread to the arts, and with many school arts budgets shrinking, so, too, are music departments. In recent years, programs in [Philadelphia](http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Philly-Students-Face-Uncertainties-School-Cutbacks-Music-212290071.html{: target="_blank" }, Detroit, and Chicago have been threatened with severe cuts and, in some cases, elimination. By reducing the funding of these programs, officials also limit the number of students who are exposed to quality music education and leave many without further pathways to develop their skills. In the case of elementary school children, cutting these programs may discourage students who otherwise would pursue an interest in music.

Benefits of Music Education

Ask any musician why they play, and they’re likely to answer as Connor Jenks, a junior at Algonquin Regional High School, did: “Because I love it.” While this passion fuels the musician, it also benefits her in more ways than she may realize.

The benefits of music education are many — from improving cognition and attention to raising standardized test scores. For students who struggle with reading, studies suggest direct training in music can help. Jenks, who was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child, has reaped the benefits. “After being diagnosed with dyslexia, I had to learn strategies to read and comprehend more fluidly. Learning to read music was like beginning to read all over again, which forced me to develop new strategies that I could take into the classroom.”

Getting Involved

If you’re concerned about the quality of the music education provided in your school district, there are many ways you can get involved. First, check the program of studies at your child’s school and compare it to those in neighboring districts. You may also consider looking at your school’s budget and how much is set aside for the music department. Neighboring district budgets may offer models for how to encourage your school to reallocate money to the music program. Use these numbers as a conversation piece when you speak to administrators and advocate for more funding.

Even if your school district funds its music programs as well as it can, it doesn’t mean the same can be said for communities around the country. If you’re passionate about every child getting a music education, get involved with the National Association for Music Education, Music for All, or the Vh1’s Save the Music Foundation to help spread the word about the importance of music education.

Further Reading on Noodle

Sources:

Budget Cuts Silence the Music at Philly Schools. Retrieved from NBC Philadelphia

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, High School Teachers, Retrieved from High School Teachers

Educate to Innovate. Retrieved from The White House website

Executive Office of Education. Teacher License Types and General Requirements (2015). Retrieved from Teacher License Types and General Requirements

How Arts Training Improves Attention and Cognition. (2009, September 14). Retrieved from The DANA Foundation

Music Education Can Help Children Improve Reading Skills. Retrieved from Science Daily

Music Education Tied to Higher Test Scores. Retrieved from Salon

Northwest Side School Cuts Back on Arts, Band. Retrieved from WBEZ

Performing Arts Program at Risk with Detroit Public Schools Budget Cuts. Retrieved from WXYZ