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Music means student success

Music Scores School Success

by Gretchen Sporleder Orr

Huerfano-  Cheers are in order for Huerfano County school districts.  For the first time in many years both Huerfano County school districts have instrumental music programs.  Re-2 has an ongoing elementary vocal music and a 5th through 6th grade instrumental program, directed by Mrs. Karen Vietti.   Re-1 is to be heartily congratulated for bringing music back to its schools this year, with the hiring of Mr. Cleveland Clinton as music director for a K through 12 comprehensive music program, including the development of an instrumental band.

    This bodes well for the futures of the students of Huerfano County. 

    Even though the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, Title IX, Part A, Sec 9101 (11), includes the arts in core academic subjects, too often school districts cut music and art programs from their curriculum in an attempt to improve math, science and English skills.

    This is a counterproductive move. Success in school and in society depends upon many different abilities.  A growing range of data supports abundant anecdotal evidence showing how music education makes kids smarter.   Especially compelling is a combination of tightly controlled behavioral studies and neurological research that show how music study can actively contribute to brain development. 

    It can be empirically demonstrated that some measures of a child’s intelligence are increased with music instruction. Numerous studies show the effectiveness of music study in helping kids become better students.  The discipline learned in music, particularly that gained in participation in band ensembles, transfers readily to study skills, communication skills, and cognitive skills that are useful in excelling in a school curriculum.

    Statistics show that schools with music programs have much higher graduation rates than do schools without music programs (90.2% as compared to 72.9%).  Schools with music programs have significantly higher attendance rates as well, 93.3% as compared to 84.9%. (Harris Interactive poll of high school principals, spring 2006)

    Furthermore, students in high quality instrumental school music programs score higher on standardized tests in English and math compared to students in schools with deficient music programs, regardless of the socioeconomic background of the students.  (MENC Journal of Research in Music Education, Winter 2006, “Examination of Relationship between Participation in School Music Programs…and Standardized Test Results.”)

    According to the College Entrance Examination Board, students of the arts significantly outperform their non-arts peers on both the verbal and math portions of the SAT. (Source: The College Board, Profile of College-Bound Seniors National Report for 2006;

    Additionally, a study of 952 high schools and 864 middle schools in Texas showed that schools with higher levels of student participation in the fine arts receive higher academic ratings and have lower drop out rates than schools with lower levels of participation in the fine arts. (

    In 2004, Dr. John Benham of Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota conducted a study of Georgia school districts and found that school districts that made staffing and funding of diversified  arts programs a priority tended to have lower dropout rates and higher scores on standardized achievement tests than those districts who did not emphasize the arts.  While these findings do not necessarily prove a cause and effect relationship, they do indicate that “strong arts programs need not come at the expense of academic achievement.  Rather, the arts are an important factor in achieving academic excellence.” 

    Dr. Martin F. Gardiner, Brown University said it best in his summer 2003 paper  “What Makes Music Work for Public Education?” (Music in Education National Consortium, Journal for Learning Through Music)  “Music is an extremely rich kind of experience in the sense that it requires cognition, it requires emotion, it requires aesthetics, it develops performance skills, individual capabilities. These things have to be developed and all have to be synchronized and integrated so that, as a person learns music, they stretch themselves mentally in a variety of ways. What we are finding is that the kind of mental stretching that takes place can be of value more generally, that is, to help children in learning other things.  And these other things, in turn, can help them in the learning of music, so that there is a dialogue between the different kinds of learning.”

    Huzzah for our Huerfano County public school administrators for recognizing the value of music education, for reaching beyond “readin,’ writin’ and ‘rithmatic,” to stretch and challenge our students in order to prepare them for success in their lives.