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Using Music to Close the Education Gap

The United States is faced with a growing problem in education – the gap between US student’s baseline proficiency compared to students in other countries. Why is that? Are students here not being taught the core standards of learning? Are they not learning ‘how to learn?’ How can this gap be fixed, especially with the increasing price of education? Many now believe that this education gap can be partially reduced by an increase of the arts, and specifically music into student’s curriculum.

To learn more, checkout the infographic below created by Kent State University’s Masters in Music Education program.

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Education Gap in the US

Even before high school, US students are falling behind in reading and mathematics. At the 4th grade level, only 35% of students can read proficiently at their level. 33% of these students scored at basic levels, and 32% scored below basic levels. By 8th grade, 36% of students were reading at their levels, with only 22% scoring below basic levels. Mathematics scoring was tough as well, with only 42% of 4th graders unable to compute their level of mathematics proficiently, 41% working at basic levels and 17% below basic. Eighth graders in mathematics scored 35% proficient, 39% basic, and 26% below basic. These scores aren’t promising but leave room for improvement in high school.

The problem is, high school seems to be where things are going wrong. In 2013, 74% of high school graduates did not meet college readiness benchmarks in: English, Reading, Math, and Science. On top of this, 57% of high school student’s SAT scores suggested they would not succeed in their freshman year of college. How does the US rank in educational proficiency? Below the global education rankings in Math, Science, and Reading.

Lack of Music in Schools

Right now, 34% of public school high schoolers take at least one music course in high school. Nationwide, about 800,000 students in secondary school never receive any music instruction. Public schools are in the thick of a financial crisis, with budget cuts and less per-student funding in 34 states, resulting in less per-student spending than before the recession. Over 85% of school administrators have reported their districts cannot handle the budget cuts — especially in lower income districts. The first programs to go? Fine arts — art, music, dance. Those that keep their music programs suffer from inadequate space, resources, and instruments. If the programs are already in peril, why keep music in the public education system?

Benefits of Music for Children

There are many reasons to keep children engaged in music throughout high school. Recent studies suggest that musically trained children have better problem solving skills, an easier time regulating behavior, and better feel for social situations. They also have higher improvement in cognitive abilities, and verbal fluency, as well as information processing speed. Plus, it has been shown that these benefits of musical training are not lost with the transition into adulthood. Physiologically, musicians have a larger corpus callosum, which helps encourage communication throughout the brain’s lobes. Finally 90% of pre-school children increased their verbal intelligence after less than a month of musical training — which stands to reason because musical training increases the blood flow into the left hemisphere of the brain — the side responsible for language pathways. Could these benefits be what US students are missing out on?

How Music Can Close the Education Gap

Three cities, Nashville, Chicago, and Los Angeles, make good examples for how music can close the education gap. In Nashville, an already musically inclined city, public school systems created an initiative called, “Music Makes Us,’ which had definitive effects on students in many areas. From the program, attendance rates improved 5%, discipline was lowered by 1..11 points annually, graduation rates rose a shocking 31%, and grade point averages raised 0.38 grade points. Tangible college bound results were visible as well, with ACT English scores raising 2.63 points, and math scores going up 1.47 points.

In Chicago, music students had faster and more precise neural responses than non-music students, and in Los Angeles, 1st and 2nd graders who lacked music education had diminished reading scores, while music students had no decline.

Other studies that support the aid of music education show that music education increases student’s satisfaction — about school and their personal achievements. Student musicians also were 15% more likely to be planning to attend college than non-musicians.