Miamiflute's Blog

Changing Paradigms Ain’t Easy

Posted on: April 25, 2011

I recently read a very interesting blog post by Andrew Ritenour on the new site Leading Notes, the State of Music Education. Entitled “The Music Education Paradox”, you can read it here. While no one can argue that you can’t teach any subject while your budget is being decimated by politicians only looking at the next voting cycle, this article – and many music educators – miss a few key points.

First, music enrollments in the K-12 system has been declining for more than 20 years. According to the 2008 National Assessments of Educational Progress (NAEP) report, only 34% of 8th graders were enrolled in performance-based classes, and there has been NO growth in enrollment between 1997 and 2008. Of those 34% of 8th graders – you can also expect about 50% of them to drop out of those performance based music classes before they graduate (Kruth, 1967).  The state of FL has seen enrollment in it’s music classes decline form 14% to 11% from 2001 to 2005 (DOE data). In fact, on a national average, the current state of music education only enrolls 20% of the total student population. In my own data – I found that the average enrollment for high school band was 7.5% of the population. THAT’S IT.

Now, I’m a music educator – and I passionately believe in the power of arts education for all students. But, I’m also a tax-paying parent. And I taught music in the public schools during a financial boom (the Clinton years). And you know what – I still didn’t reach more than 20% of the school population. Now, when hard financial decisions have to be made in a budget – be it a personal or state-wide budget – you have to trim where you do the least harm. And sadly – with only 20% of the students – we are doing the LEAST good, and therefore, the least harm will happen when we are cut. If music education wants to really be too important to cut – then we have to provide a quality education for ALL students. And the current domination of performance based classes DOES NOT DO THAT.

Second, I think they would revoke my Ph.D. if I didn’t point out that the research that you cited didn’t “prove” anything. Yes, there is compelling research out there about the correlation between participation in the arts and the improvement of every test score known to man. You can find very compelling data from the Florida Music Educators Association in their 12th Grade Cohort Study that across every socio-economic status, race, and gender that the more music/art a student participates in, the better their test scores and less likely they are to drop out of school. However, this does NOT show causation — nowhere do it show that music causes these results. Perhaps students who are intuitively less inclined to drop out of school just like to participate in music or art more? It is a correlation – not a cause. And as much as we wish it were, we need to be careful to not jump on the “Mozart Effect” train of the late 1990’s and end up with egg on our professional faces again. (yes, I just cited Wikipedia – easy to digest for the average reader – shoot me). The example I like to give my beginning researchers to demonstrate how correlation is different than causation is this one:

Dear New Parent: I would like to sell you my secret GUARANTEED to improve your child’s reading ability. As your child increases this secret — they will improve their reading skills! 100% money-back guarantee! Only $100, buy now. [When you buy the ‘secret’ you get an envelope that says “shoe size”. <— Think about it, my 3 year old has bigger feet than my 2 year old, and can read more. I have bigger feet than both, and I – hopefully – can read the best out of all of us.]

You can’t argue with the above story. I can’t get my money back, because indeed as my children’s shoe size increases, so does their reading ability. But we are all pretty positive that shoe size DOES NOT CAUSE reading ability. My only point with the above story being that we can’t hang our hat on these arguments that the “research proves” anything. We need to be our own best advocates and allies – and if we want to become indispensable, then we need to reach ALL students. And that means we must —- gasp —- change what we do.

If you walked into a music room more than 100 years ago when MENC was formed, it would look oddly similar to a music room today. One person on the podium, students playing the same instruments, large ensemble, etc. Math, Science, English, Computers <– these classroom look vastly different 100 years ago then they look today. But music….?

I had the pleasure of hearing Daniel Pink speak at the Texas Music Educators Association conference back in 2009. I had just finished his book, A Whole New Mind, and it had forever changed my view of the importance of creativity and the arts. When he came on stage he said he wanted to talk to us about the importance of arts education. He immediately got a standing ovation — and the HE turned around and BOOED us and said:

“You believe too much in the outcome to realize that your argument sucks.”

As we move music education for ALL students forward, let’s be sure we are forming the right argument.


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