Music educators are frequently defending their programs from budget cuts, space constrictions, and total annihilation. While this feels like an all-encompassing panic attack for a lot of music teachers, what’s really going on? Is music education really on the decline overall, or are we just not seeing the forest through the trees?
The answer is, of course, complicated.
Yes, music education is on the decline.
This has been going on for decades. School bands were in their glory back in the days of Sousa (later 19th century)— and when I say glory, I simply mean they were on the rise and popular. Education was segregated and racist in those days, and music education was no different, so it really was only the “glory days” to those in power. Even so, those days were about 150 years ago.
Millions of students are without access to music education during the school day. Several factors has contributed to the decline of music education:
- Economics: Most schools that cut arts programs point to financial strains, and the areas that feel that the most are poor, primarily BIPOC and/or immigrant communities. “The funding gap between students of lower and higher-income areas has increased by 40% in the past sixty years.”
- Focus on standardized testing: The ongoing emphasis on high standardized testing scores has pushed music education to the side in favor of more time and funding for ELA and math instructional time.
- Lack of understanding regarding the benefits of music education: Despite the staggering amount of research that has shown how music education benefits students in many ways, the “powers that be” ignore or are ignorant about this information in favor of their own agendas.
- Emergence of charter schools: Charter schools often forgo state standards regarding the arts, leaving their students without access. 34% of charter schools are without music education, compared to 6% of traditional schools.
No, music education is not on the decline.
While there is certainly room for improvement, over 90% of students have access to music education during their school day. There are new efforts to include music education in the school day, and even more work to transform music education to be more equitable and accessible. Here is what gives me hope:
- Nonprofit collaborations: Where the schools fail to provide music education, nonprofit organizations are there to fill the gaps.
- New, different, and relevant music offerings in schools: The rise of music technology, songwriting, modern band, music production, etc in schools is very exciting. Though the majority of these programs are being offered in more affluent areas, there is hope that these models can be adapted in all schools for better student engagement
- Attention to DEI and SEL practices: Depending on where you live in the country, attention to DEI and SEL practices might also be on the rise. The application of more equitable and science-based approaches is a slow process, but the increased prevalence (in some places) is encouraging.
Music eduction in schools is far overdue for a revolution.
Truly, music in schools hasn’t really changed in DECADES. As evidenced by the ancient instruments and books in your closets… the emphasis on BOC (band/orchestra/choir)… the laser-focus on Eurocentric music…
Yes, some changes have come! More technology, new ensembles, new music… But if we’re being honest, a revolution is way, way overdue.
Unfortunately, schools are huge government-funded bureaucracies that change SLOWLY. And many, sadly, haven’t cared about the state of their arts programs.
So… it’s an evolution. It’s a step-by-step, inch-by-inch process. And it’s not happening overnight. Even if we want (or need) it to…
But! Our IDEAS can be revolutions! Our big goals, outcomes, dreams, visions can be MAJOR REVOLUTIONS! And our actions towards those ideas can be tippy-toe evolutions.
If you’re dying for a revolution but don’t know how to evolve towards it– that’s my jam. I walk you through those big, revolutionary ideas and make them into bite-sized “I’m only one person with a dream”-sized steps. That’s what my book “Planning on Purpose” is all about!
So keep that dream of revolution ALIVE! And take one step closer every day. I’m with you!