Music educators have complained about the small amount of instructional time they are given during the school day for as long as music has been incorporated into the curriculum. How severe this misallocation of time is varies between school districts and even more widely between the individual states, but no one can deny that No Child Left Behind compounded this negative effect on music and fine arts class time. Recently however, we have seen several examples of school districts that have realized the vital part that music education plays in the education of their students. These forward thinking schools are trying very hard to find ways to bring back or increase the amount of music instruction in their schools. This article examines a few of these forward thinking districts and their conventional wisdom breaking ideas.
Government Officials State The Importance Of The Arts in NCLB:
Back in 2004 US Department Of Education Secretary Rod Page, wrote an open letter to all United States school district superintendents that detailed the position of the government that music education was a core part of the No Child Left Behind law. In Secretary Page's letter he states:
"It's disturbing not just because arts programs are being diminished or eliminated, but because NCLB is being interpreted so narrowly as to be considered the reason for these actions."
A few years later the current Secretary, Margaret Spellings, had this comment during an online Ask The White House question and answer session:
Working for grade level in math and reading does not and should not translate into a situation where students no longer have time for music, art, science, history, or any other subject that ensures a well-rounded education.
New Studies Show The Importance of Music and The Arts
Despite this position thousands of schools across America saw their music education programs cut back or eliminated in order to provide additonal resources and time to the other core curricular subjects. Since those dark days many school districts have come around to "face the music," so to speak and realize the negative effects that reducing and eliminating music education has had in the overall intellectual health of their student body. In more recent days, a report by MENC and Harris Interactive adds credit to the pro music education stance by showing very strong correlations between music and a child's lifetime financial success rate. On the whole, students that participated in music as a part of the school day become far more successful members of society than those who did not. Several school districts have capitalized on this forward way of thinking and can serve as positive examples to districts that have ventured too far down the primrose path.
School Districs Start To Improve Their Music Education Class Offerings
Los Angeles Unified Schools are mentioned in the national media quite often. As one of the largest districts in the United States it is faced with financial decisions on a scale that rival those of most small cities. Recently the district made a commitment to put four arts teachers in each of their 350 elementary schools . Moving beyond just teaching about band or vocal music, only one of the three is dedicated to music. The others are assigned to teaching about theater, fine arts, and dance.
While the Los Angeles initiative seems to be a great step forward other school's plans leave one wondering just how bad things have been allowed to deteriorate. In several school districts around the nation the local school boards and community members have began to get creative to find new ways of bringing music education back into the schools. Some districts such as those in Indianapolis have instituted after school music education programs , but others see the obvious need for music education to be included as a part of the daily classroom curriculum. In Dallas, Texas the district is attempting to increase the number of music teachers in the schools. They plan to hire 140 new music and art teachers but even with this the students of the district will receive only 45 minutes of music instruction each week.
A Good Start For Bringing Music Back To The Schools
These and dozens of other examples show that school districts are finally starting recognize that having music in our schools is important. Are all of these examples pristine shining lights of inspiration as to what is possible? No, but at least they are a start. Bringing music back into every school in the nation is a lofty goal, but one that can be achieved as more and more schools and their administrators begin to face the music and find new ways to give their students a chance to experience music and the fine arts in their schools.