Music Education and the Achievement Gap

Published on Wednesday, June 29, 2011

After Governor Christie enacted devastating budget cuts to New Jersey’s public schools, many of the first programs eliminated were music-related.

From chorus to band to elementary music classes, music has been systematically stripped from many schools because it is not one of the subjects that is evaluated on standardized tests. Even in those districts that believe strongly in music education, they simply cannot afford to fund those programs in the face of these drastic cuts.

The truth is music helps students of all ages and skill levels learn more and lead healthier, less stressful lives. It even improves student achievement in tested areas such as math, reading, and science. According to research, students develop critical skills such as reading, anticipating, memory, listening, forecasting, recall, and concentration through musical performance. Acquiring such skills improves student achievement in math, reading, and science. In fact, students who had access to music education out-performed non-music students on achievement tests in reading and math.

Students who have access to music education are also less likely to drop out of school and are twice as likely as the average student to go on to college.

Music also helps students appreciate and understand other cultures, a critical element of learning in the 21st Century.

From a social perspective, studying music benefits children by making them feel part of a community. In music classes, students work collaboratively to create and analyze music. They must learn to perform together in order to succeed.

Research also shows that students who receive music education are also less likely to be involved in gangs, drugs or alcohol abuse, and have better attendance in school.

There are many more examples of how music education benefits students but unfortunately, only the wealthiest students will enjoy those benefits. As funding is stripped from public schools and districts cut music programs and teaching staff, students from more educated and affluent homes will still receive music instruction. Their parents will ensure that they continue to have that opportunity. But those students whose parents cannot afford music instruction will go without and an achievement gap that New Jersey has been so successful in reducing will gape even wider.

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