In mid-March, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (NY-7) introduced a congressional resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives expressing support for the designation of March 2019 as Music In Our Schools Month. Congresswoman Velazquez has been a consistent vocal supporter of music and arts education, receiving the “Music Education Champion Award” from the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) in 2018. NAfME thanks her for her ongoing support of music education for all students.
This is the first Music In Our Schools Month (MIOSM) federal resolution introduced in more than 30 years, with the last national resolution introduced in 1986 by Representative Daniel Akaka from Hawaii and Senator Paul Simon of New York in 1985. The roots of MIOSM can be traced to New York State, where the first MIOSM was celebrated on March 14, 1973. Governor Nelson Rockefeller recognized MIOSM in proclamation in 1973, and recognition of MIOSM from the Governor’s office continues today.
MIOSM was created to raise awareness of the importance of music education for all children, and to remind citizens that school is where all children should have access to music. During MIOSM, music educators and students throughout the United States and overseas are demonstrating the powerful role music programs play in the lives of young people.
Building Support for Music in American Schools
Music, specifically singing, has existed in American classrooms since before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Then, music was commonly used as a mnemonic tool to promote literacy in language and arithmetic but was not taught in school independent of another academic goal. Those who wanted to improve their musical ability attended informal “singing schools,” which were typically held during the evenings in schoolhouses or churches. After the American Revolutionary War, singing schools grew immensely popular among people of all ages and became common fixtures in communities.1
Music was adopted into a public-school curriculum as its own subject for the first time in Boston, Massachusetts in 1838. That event is largely attributed to effective advocacy efforts led by Lowell Mason, the foremost singing school instructor of the era. Following the precedent established in Boston, schools began hiring teachers specifically for music and dedicating class time for music learning.
Music education appeared first in major cities, then spread as surrounding communities followed suit. As time went on, state legislatures and educational agencies adopted music as part of the regular school curriculum. In 2015, through the collective advocacy efforts of NAfME members and supporters, music education gained recognition as a stand-alone subject for the first time in federal law in the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
Making The Case for School Music Education Today – And For All Children
NAfME, representing K-12 music educators, college music educators and researchers, future music teachers, and music education advocates, believes that music is intrinsically valuable, and that learning music brings numerous benefits to individuals and communities. Creating, performing, and responding to music is impactful on many levels – it allows us to express complex emotions, relate with each other through shared experiences, and connect more deeply with our humanity.
Additionally, recent research studies, including a 2011 study conducted in Metro Nashville Public Schools, assert that participation in school music leads to heightened student engagement along with improved social and school-based outcomes. Students surveyed attributed their music study to enhancing their self-discipline, persistence, and leadership abilities. That study also estimated causal relationships between music study and higher grades, better attendance, and fewer discipline referrals.2
The vast majority of American public schools – 94% of elementary schools and 91% of secondary schools – offer some form of music instruction. However, schools with higher percentages of students receiving free/reduced lunch are less likely to include music instruction. Variation in the quality of music programs is often attributed to the concentration of student poverty, with socioeconomically disadvantaged students less likely to have access to music education year-round or in dedicated classrooms with special equipment.3
Barriers to participation in school music are also at play, particularly at the secondary level where most music education occurs in bands, orchestras, and choirs. According to 2014 research by Kenneth Elpus and Carolos Abril, students participating in large ensembles are not representative of the U.S. high school population writ large. Elpus and Abril found that in 2004, 21% of high school seniors were enrolled in a school music ensemble. However, within that group, white students and students of higher socioeconomic status (SES) were significantly overrepresented, while ethnic/racial minorities and students of lower-income households were underrepresented. The disparities are likely influenced by multiple barriers, both economic and cultural in nature. Students from families with lower incomes, for example, may be less likely to enroll in instrumental music courses, especially if the school does not provide instruments. And the repertoire typically programmed in high school ensembles is often from the Western canon, creating a perception of limiting connections for students from differing musical cultures.4
American music education has come a great distance since music curricula were first adopted in public schools. Music In Our Schools Month is a time to celebrate the progress made while recommitting ourselves to continued improvement. Through practice and through policy, NAfME will strive to facilitate in-school, standards-based, sequential music learning that is rich, inclusive, and emblematic of our shared cultures.
The National Association for Music Education is proud to support this congressional resolution and the message it contains. NAfME aims to support access to a high-quality music education for all students, regardless of background. H. Res. 216 provides members of the House an opportunity to affirm their support of this mission, and we hope to see many Representatives do so.
Mark, M. L., & Gary, C. L. (2007). A history of American music education (Chapter 8). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Eason, B. J. A., & Johnson, C. M. (2013). Prelude: Music Makes Us Baseline Research Report. Nashville, TN: Metro Nashville Public Schools.
Parsad, B., and Spiegelman, M. (2012). Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 1999–2000 and 2009–10 (NCES 2012–014). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.
Elpus, K., & Abril, C. R. (2011). High School Music Ensemble Students in the United States: A Demographic Profile. Journal of Research in Music Education, 59(2): 128–145. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022429411405207
Rob Edwards, Policy and Content Coordinator © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org).