Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Not Just for Future Hedge-Fund Managers: Can Music Help Raise Academic Standards in Low-Income Areas?

Because I don't really think the world needs more hedge-fund managers or bullying billionaires, Joan Lipman's New York Times opinion piece linking musical training to career success left me cold.

Much more heartening was this recent article in the Atlantic by Lori Miller Kase. Kase looks at  ongoing studies from researchers at Northwestern, USC, and University of California, San Diego on music programs for at-risk children in low-income areas of Southern California. In all three cases, researches are finding that music dramatically improves cognitive, social, and emotional development, placing children in a better position to succeed in school:
Though these studies are far from over, researchers, as well as the parents and teachers of the study subjects, are already noticing a change in the kids who are studying music. Preliminary results suggest that not only does school and community-based music instruction indeed have an impact on brain functioning, but that it could possibly make a significant difference in the academic trajectory of lower-income kids.
Unfortunately, too few school districts in low-income areas have the money for music music programs:
Ironically, these findings come at a time when 1.3 million of the nation’s public elementary school students receive no specific instruction in music—and the children who do not have access to music education are disproportionately those who attend high-poverty schools. While wealthier school districts can compensate for budget cuts that reduce or eliminate music programs with private funding, low-income school districts cannot, so the kids who might benefit most from music education are often the least likely to get it.
What's left are programs such as the Harmony Project in Los Angeles, or any number of projects here in Rochester (Urban Strings, Strings for Success, RocMusic) that provide valuable help, but which do not operate as part of a school's curriculum. Hopefully, the work that Kase cites will help convince district administrators and state politicians that music deserves a central place in all students' lives, not just those with rich parents.