Is the No Child Left Behind Act Shortchanging Our Children in Music and Art?

Educators have said since its inception that the No Child Left Behind Act was not the solution. Teachers are limited to what and how they can teach; children are dropping out of school and are getting left behind. The act is failing more than it is succeeding, and our children are paying the price, ending up joining the vicious cycle of welfare and poverty due to their lack of education.

The No Child Left Behind Act has a narrow focus on math, science English and testing. In particular, its policy to teach to the test does not teach our children to become well-rounded adults— adults who can draw on their knowledge and all of their experiences, including music and art. Being able to pass a particular test is not the same thing as being able to resolve problems.

Studies on the Effects of Music

University studies conducted in both Georgia and Texas have found significant links between children who had music instruction and their academic achievements in math, science and language arts. Their studies have found that middle and high school students who participated in music programs scored significantly higher than their peers who did not participate in any kind of music programs. Studies have proven time and again that children who took piano or other musical instrument lessons at an early age elevated their SAT scores considerably in math and languages 11 years later.

A Neurological Research study held in 1999 found that students exposed to music lessons scored a full 100 percent higher on fraction tests than those who learned through conventional teaching methods. In the test, second and third-grade students were taught by first teaching them basic music rhythm notation. They learned about the relationships between eighth, quarter, half and whole notes. Math and music are very closely related. Why? In the music world, kids are learning fractions and intervals and positive and negative with every change in an octave. Once learned, the skills are easily translatable in the math world.

A ten-year study performed at UCLA that tracked more than 25,000 students, found that music-making improved test scores regardless of the student’s socioeconomic background. Students continued to obtain higher test scores in not only standardized tests, but tests such as the SAT and reading proficiency exams. Another study by the University of Texas found that college-age kids with music backgrounds are emotionally healthier than their non-musician peers. Each group was given three tests, and the study measured anxiety, emotional concerns and alcohol related issues. They found that students with a music background tend to feel more self-confident when facing tests and had fewer battles with alcohol.

The Many Benefits of Music

The world’s top academic countries place a high value on music education, whereas the United States places a higher focus on vocabulary, technology, math and science. Yet our children are failing to achieve high scores in math and science! Hungary, the Netherlands and Japan are countries with the highest achievement in the sciences. These three countries have a strong commitment to the world of music education and the power it has to help their children achieve higher grades in math and science. All three countries require music training for their children in the elementary and middle grade school levels and have done so for decades. Their music training includes both instrumental and vocal.

There are other benefits to music. Exposure to music teaches children to express themselves and provides an emotional outlet that keeps them healthier. It gives them a strong sense of self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence, key ingredients to success in their adult life. It encourages social interaction, inspires creativity and improvisation. It strengthens their communication skills and their ability to express themselves. The world of art, particularly music, is a positive force on all aspects of our children’s lives, particularly their academic success. So with all these benefits, why do the schools and the government continue to eliminate music from the educational system?

Even the nation’s top business executives feel that programs in the arts can help repair with America’s educational system to better prepare the future workforce. It is time to stop teaching our children to tests and “dumbing down” school books. It does not work. Children are dropping out of school in droves. As a country, we need to bring back the power of the arts to our education system, particularly music. A good education that provides access and exposure to music and art, regardless of a child’s socioeconomic background, is perhaps a better answer than the No Child Left Behind Act.

Our family has experienced the positive impact and power music has in education first hand. I grew up in a family of three children. As a child, I took piano lessons for four years, flute for one year and participated in church and school choirs. One of my other siblings also took piano for two years. The two of us who took music lessons quickly grasped fractions and basic math skills, and excelled in reading and the humanities. The sibling who took no music classes early in life encountered multiple problems in school, particularly math, ultimately dropping out of high school because she believed she was simply not smart enough. Then one day she decided to take guitar lessons after becoming involved with her church’s worship singers. She went back to school not only finding the success and self-confidence she had not found as a child, but realizing she was indeed an intelligent young woman.

That same sibling pulled her own children out of the public school system because she realized that the No Child Left Behind Act did not work. She has homeschooled her two children through a community charter school that uses both on-hand and internet teaching. She has also made it a point of exposing them to all forms of the arts, including music, and are taught year-round. Both children easily breeze through state required tests with no test anxiety experienced by many public schooled children. They maintain a grade point average of 3.8 – 4.0, and are two grade levels beyond public schooled peers of the same age.

Changing the Face of Education

At a time when our country was comprised of mostly farms and ranches it made sense to free our children to help on the family farm over the summer. It was a necessity. It no longer is. We need a serious conversation on what we really want from our educational system. Our approach to teaching to tests, “dumbing down” text books and providing a narrow focus approach is obviously not working. While the notion of leaving no child behind is a worthy idea in of itself, the No Child Left Behind Act is too restrictive and is not the answer. Providing our children a well-rounded, year-round education that includes not only math, science and language but the world of music, will help our children become the successful adults that will one day lead our businesses and country.

Our children are bright, intelligent and capable of achieving educational greatness with all of the right tools. Involving the very people who teach our children and their parents to help find better and more creative solutions, and providing access to music and the arts in our public schools will help keep our kids in school. We need to give back the power of teaching to the teachers and give the power of a well-rounded education to our children. Together we can help kids achieve the high scores we know them to be capable of achieving and an education that includes the world of music and art.

Here is a math equation for all of us to consider: Exposure to music = quick-to-learn other subjects.

U.S. Senator, Jeff Bingaman (New Mexico), said it best. “Music education can be a positive force on all aspects of a child’s life, particularly their academic success. It has proven to be an invaluable tool in classrooms across the country. Given the impact music can have on our children’s education, we should support every effort to bring music into their classrooms.”

Doing so will perhaps help our children fulfill their dreams and possibilities, and help ensure that no child is left behind. Copyright 2010 Catherine L Pittman – All Rights Reserved (c)

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