How music motivates students to make the grade

While some districts expand instruction, others continue to struggle with funding
By: | January 2, 2020
Every student at Roosevelt Elementary School in California's San Gabriel USD learns to play the violin beginning in first grade and can switch to a brass, woodwind or other string instrument in fourth grade.Every student at Roosevelt Elementary School in California's San Gabriel USD learns to play the violin beginning in first grade and can switch to a brass, woodwind or other string instrument in fourth grade.

Districts that educate larger percentages of low-income students are increasingly making an effort to provide more robust music education, according to The Hechinger Report. 

Music education in lower-income districts remains less robust and is offered less frequently. But more than half of the students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch in 180 of the 623 districts honored with the “Best Communities for Music Education” award in 2019, according to The Hechinger Report. 

Educators in these districts have used past awards to convince voters to approve bonds for music instruction and to win more music funding from school boards, according to The Hechinger Report.

“These are the districts that without this recognition, [music] could be marginal and it could slip away,” Mary Luehrsen, the executive director of the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation, the nonprofit professional association that awards the prize, told The Hechinger Report. 


More from DA: How arts-based lessons improve science performance


In Alaska, the Juneau Alaska Music Matters program partners with local elementary schools to provide violin instruction to first-graders and kindergartners. It has helped increase math and English scores, the Juneau Empire reported.

The program becomes an optional after-school activity in second grade.

“The research behind it is if you have at least two years of an instrumental background, it not only prepares the brain to be successful for academic success but to be a contributing citizen in your community,” Lorrie Heagy, Juneau Alaska Music Matters‘ program director, told the Juneau Empire. 

Schoolwide music instruction is also having a big impact in Southern California. Every student at Roosevelt Elementary School in San Gabriel USD is enrolled in the Music Immersion Experience.

Students learn to play the violin beginning in first grade and can switch to a brass, woodwind or other string instrument in fourth grade, District Administration reported earlier this month.


More from DA: How integrating arts and social-emotional learning drives success


As of last summer, the percentage of Roosevelt Elementary third-, fourth- and fifth-graders who have met or exceeded the standards on the Smarter Balanced Assessment’s English Language Arts exam had increased 27 points since the program began. Math scores have increased by 15 points, DA reported.

As a result, the program was named the 2019 grand prize winner of DA’s Districts of Distinction recognition program.

But districts elsewhere are struggling to provide music education that meets parents’ expectations. In New York, Buffalo Public Schools faces lawsuits from parents and teachers over access to music education, WBFO-FM reported.

To meet requirements, some schools have implemented a technical one-minute period where students receive credit for music classes, WBFO reports.


More from DA: How to make the case for creativity in STEAM