Specialized music instruction (sometimes called pullout programs) usually refers to elective classes that take selected students, but not all students, out of the self-contained classroom to participate in group practices or individual lessons. This is a common practice in many elementary, middle, and high schools across the country and is not limited to regularly scheduled music classes such as band, choir, and orchestra. This position paper uses the term “specialized music instruction” rather than “pullout,” a word that can perpetuate the bias against comprehensive schooling.
Research indicates that participating in specialized music instruction classes does not negatively affect children’s learning. Standardized tests show that children who participate in music classes generally produce higher test scores than children who do not participate in music. In order for specialized music instruction to be of maximum benefit to the students involved, classroom teachers may need help in accommodating students’ participation in these valuable educational programs.
Some classroom teachers are reluctant to allow students to miss their class for specialized elective music classes because they are concerned that the students will perform poorly on standardized and mandatory state and district tests. Classroom teachers often find themselves under considerable pressure from their administrators for students to score at high levels on tests and assessments due to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements such as reaching “adequate yearly progress” (AYP). Consequently, increased instructional time for subjects like language arts and math has often come at the expense of music and other arts programs.
Furthermore, specialized instruction classes can be a source of frustration to classroom teachers because some of their students leave the classroom at assorted times on various days leaving the teacher with only a portion of the students in the room. The classroom teacher is faced with the dilemma of accommodating students released from the regular instruction time so that they have access to the new concepts and lessons presented during their absence. For these teachers, specialized instruction classes are disruptive to their preferred method of presenting new concepts and lessons to the whole class. Some classroom teachers believe that students in specialized programs suffer academically because of the program, which can create teacher frustration and friction between staff members. Research has shown, however, that students in specialized music classes are not disadvantaged by being out of their regular classrooms. These students often score higher on standardized assessments, and many actually benefit academically from music instruction.
Specialized instruction programs often are created out of necessity due to the way instruction time is staffed in some schools. If the music teacher is assigned to multiple buildings, the schedule may cause the music program to be a specialized instruction program. School districts and the collective bargaining unit for teachers determine the exact time of day teachers are to be on duty. Consequently, the music teachers must conform to those requirements and teach during regular contractual hours. As an alternative to having band/strings/choral classes scheduled as specialized instruction programs, sometimes these classes are scheduled before or after school and outside regular contractual hours.
Scheduling outside the school day sends a false negative message to general educators, administrators, students, and parents that these classes are less important than other curricular programs. Additionally, scheduling music groups before or after school may create a culture of have and have-nots, as children with working parents may not be able to arrange transportation outside of the school day. Many of the problems that arise could be mitigated by advance planning which solicits input from, and includes those who may initially oppose specialized instruction. Depending on the school, music instruction in upper elementary, middle school, and high school grades can also be taught during “elective” hours rather than as a specialized instruction. In many K-5 grades, non-music classroom teachers utilize the time students are involved in music instruction for preparation time. Traveling music teachers can still provide this time for teachers as long as locations are sufficient for necessary materials and music instruction.
The Music Educator’s Role
Research on Specialized Music Instruction
Based on positive outcomes, music educators can be confident advocates of specialized music education. Although some studies indicate no significant difference in the academic achievement of students who left their regular class for music study compared with those who did not, many studies indicate that students taking music lessons earn higher scores on standardized tests than non-music students, and that there is a direct correlation between improved SAT scores and the length of time spent studying the arts. Bibliographical information about the research can be found at the end of this document. The Support Music Knowledge Base provides research-based facts supporting the advantages of music education. In general, the impact of music study on overall student development is very positive: both immediate and long-term gains have been found in students’ auditory, perceptual, and aesthetic senses, as well as in their work ethic.
Of even more relevance to parents and school officials, however, is what happens to the children in their own schools. Staying informed about research that supports the values and benefits of music education for children is a useful pursuit; however, locally acquired empirical information is of even more practical use. As informal researchers, music teachers can track the ongoing academic achievement of their own students as they progress through the district’s music program. Music teachers can seek out university music education professors who are MENC members and ask if they have a shared common interest in tracking the achievement of the music students. Working together, music teacher and professor can create a database that describes the students’ learning, and this database can be used as an advocacy tool by the music teacher.
Despite a music teacher’s best efforts, he/she may need to be prepared to engage in constructive conflict resolution with some teachers who may adamantly oppose specialized instruction. It may be necessary to rotate the lesson program so that students miss minimal numbers of class sessions in any one subject.
Using good research data, teachers can promote goals and objectives based not only on current research, but also on their students’ actual achievement, thereby educating parents and decision makers at all levels and advocating for their music education program through authentic assessment.
Guidelines for Music Teachers
- Explain to students that it is a privilege to participate in intensive music study and with privileges come certain responsibilities to themselves, their teachers, and other music students.
- Remind students of their responsibilities as often as necessary.
- They should report to their classroom teacher for attendance and assignments.
- They are responsible for any homework, notes, or activities that are assigned.
- Vocal/Instrumental lessons should never be used as an excuse for late homework.
- If a quiz or test is scheduled, students must take the test before coming to the music class.
- Encourage students to find a study partner who will take notes for them and provide them with information, materials, and assignments, especially for newly introduced topics.
- Provide an alternative means to make up a lesson/class when an irresolvable conflict exists.
- In order to address students who may not adhere to the stated conducts, devise appropriate consequences in advance for failure to uphold their responsibilities. Communicate those stated conducts and consequences to the students, classroom teachers, administrators, and parents.
- Encourage parents to support their children’s participation in an elective music program, especially in their dealings with principals and classroom teachers.
- Discuss the results and the implications of research studies in person, at concerts, and in regular periodic communications. Provide specific information so that parents can have access to research resources. Consider creating a “booster” organization for the music program.
- Research studies do not say that every child studying music will do well academically. Every child is unique and individual differences must be accommodated for the benefit of the child. Work with parents if their child is doing poorly in his or her regular classroom subjects. Arrange a conference with the parents and classroom teacher to map out specific, sequential criteria for the student in order to create a nurturing environment for the child in both the music class and the regular classroom.
- Music educators who teach in schools with specialized instruction programs are obliged to work closely with classroom teachers and principal(s) to ensure that children are allowed to participate in such music programs without unnecessary negative ramifications or discouragement from teachers.
- Be aware and understanding of the pressures and challenges classroom teachers are under that may cause them to be less than supportive of your program.
- Build rapport with the classroom teachers and keep them informed about how “their” students are doing in your music classes. You and the classroom teacher share a common concern for your shared students.
- Work with classroom teachers to support their programs, and ask them to try to avoid scheduling exams and other tests, if at all possible, during specialized instruction time.
- Cooperate with classroom teachers to create and strictly abide by a long-range, published schedule of any lessons/classes.
- Address teaching across the curriculum in music classes, meeting National Music Standards #8 and #9.
- Communicate to classroom teachers that the music educator supports the curriculum as a whole in addition to providing discipline specific instruction.
- Work with classroom teachers to establish jointly agreed-upon penalties for students who are absent from lessons or classes, including deadlines for make-up work and parental sign offs.
Colleagues and Administrators
- Realize that scheduling is often a compromise and work out a schedule with colleagues and administrators that all can support and comfortably work within.
- Explore the efficacy of a rotating specialized instruction schedule designed so that no one class gets priority over another. Each session of music should be respected and uninterrupted, even if held at a different time of different days, and all teachers should be expected to adhere to the instruction schedule equally.
- Ask your administrators to consider providing opportunities for more than one half-hour lesson/class per week for beginning instruction.
- Ask your administrators to provide a positive learning space that is conducive to quality music instruction and that promotes music learning and retention of students (hallways, behind curtains, storage closets, entryways, etc., are unacceptable).
- Request coordinated, effective use of resources, including curriculum, instructional time, and facilities. Opportunity-to-Learn Standards for Music Instruction, Grades PreK—12 (Reston, VA: MENC, 1994) recommends conditions schools should provide in order to achieve the National Standards for Music Education and the MENC Standards for prekindergarten music education.
Mutual professional respect
- Help your colleagues and administrators understand that music teachers are professional colleagues teaching a core curriculum.
- Let your colleagues and administrators know that you respect all teachers’ importance in the education of the whole child.
- Help your colleagues and administrators stay current with research about music and arts education as an integrated part of the education day.
- Refrain from displaying anger or becoming emotional if you sense opposition to specialized instruction programs. One of the best ways to effectively deal with problems is to calmly and objectively gather and present facts and figures, keeping in mind that the focus of all teachers should be the best comprehensive education for all students.
- If you sense a problem, take the initiative in discussing it with the classroom teacher. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
- Realize that it is not always feasible for the classroom teacher to delay direct instruction during specialized instruction times.
- Remind the adults involved that educational opportunities for students should be structured to meet students’ and parents’ best interests rather than teachers’ or administrators’ convenience.
- The attitude of a novice music educator’s immediate supervisor—usually a principal—is vitally important. Removing children from class for specialized instruction can be a politically or philosophically charged issue that may be difficult for new teachers to navigate without carefully considered guidance. Less experienced teachers may want to seek the advice/counsel of more experienced teachers.
Aucoin, T. J. (1998). Relationships between selected factors of pull-out music programs and students’ academic achievement. Unpublished educational specialist thesis, Georgia State University, Atlanta.
Boord, J. E. (2004). Reading achievement of instrumental music students and non-instrumental music students in six Harford County elementary schools. Unpublished manuscript.
Corral, S. J. (1998). A comparison study of the California Test of Basic Skills between fourth and fifth grade instrumental music pullout students and students not involved in the instrumental music program. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED430013)
Cox, R. W. (2001). Effects on academic achievement for fifth-grade students in a band pull-out program. (Master’s thesis, California State University, Fresno, 2001). Masters Abstracts International, 40(01), 26.
Dryden, S. (1992). The Impact of Instrumental Music Instruction on the Academic Achievement of Fifth Grade Students. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED368634).
Engdahl, P. M. (1994). The effect of pull-out programs on the academic achievement of sixth-grade students in South Bend, Indiana. (Doctoral dissertation, Andrews University, 1994). Dissertation Abstracts International, 55(05), 1179A.
Friedman, B. (1960). An evaluation of the achievement in reading and arithmetic of pupils in elementary school instrumental music classes. (Doctoral dissertation, 1960). Dissertation Abstracts International, 20(09), 3662 .
Gillespie, R. (1992). The elementary pullout crisis: Using research effectively. American String Teacher 42(2), 79—81.
Groff, F. H. (1963). Effect on academic achievement of excusing elementary school pupils from classes to study instrumental music. (Doctoral dissertation, The University of Connecticut, 1963). Dissertation Abstracts International, 25(09), 5014.
Hash, P. M. (2004). Literature review. Lessons in instrumental music education, 159, 1—10. Bulletin of the CRME (Council of Research in Music Education).
Kvet, E. J. (1985). Excusing Elementary School Students from Regular Classroom Activities for the Study of Instrumental Music: the Effect on Sixth-Grade Reading, Language, and Mathematics Achievement. Journal of Research in Music Education 32, 45—54.
Wallick, M. D. (1998). A comparison study of the Ohio Proficiency Test results between fourth-grade string pullout students and those of matched ability. Journal of Research in Music Education 46(2), 239–47.