Arts Education

OPINION: It’s time to change the conversation around music education to its positive impact on student success

How we can integrate arts across all classrooms

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Research continues to show that children who participate in quality music programs go on to earn higher test scores and have a greater likelihood of postsecondary success than their peers who don’t — yet music programs across the country lack support, commitment and funding.

That’s why it is time to change the conversation around music education.

With funding cuts across all sectors of education, not just in the arts, it’s vital that we take a different approach to showcase the value of music and focus on the greater impact it could have across an entire school community.

If we saw each classroom partnering and utilizing their music program within their own curriculum, our students would excel across the board.

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When music is integrated in ways that are beneficial to each subject, but also is complemented by the work of the music teacher, you see positive impacts and value in student learning overall.

With music education as a catalyst for student success, why don’t we see these teaching philosophies being integrated across all classrooms?

If classrooms better utilized their school’s music educators and their teaching philosophies, students would be encouraged to be creative in every subject. We all know the arts — and music specifically — can enhance and drive creativity in students, yet we aren’t leveraging that skill outside of arts programs.

Take problem-solving, for example. Problem-solving is a life skill that we champion to help build a well-rounded student. Well, problem-solving is simply an extension of creativity, and when viewed that way — as a skill that is needed, instead of as a skill that not everyone has because it’s considered “artistic” — we begin to see a shift in overall student success.

Let’s take a look at how high-quality music programs can create lasting student connections and help address behavioral issues. Teachers enter the field to have an impact on student learning. But because of circumstances beyond a teacher’s control, reaching every student can be a challenge.

Our young people face more hurdles than ever — hardships at home, societal stressors and violence. It is vital for educators to connect and engage with students and meet them where they are.

When educators are working with students who are facing some sort of trauma — violence, addiction, poverty — at home, putting a book on a student’s desk and teaching from the front of the room won’t work. That’s not how you reach students. That’s not how they’re going to thrive.

Our music educators are trained to interact with students on a different level. They’re meeting our kids where they are: developing trust, engaging in productive communication and channeling their stressors into something positive. Something beautiful.

To reach students is to build community. This approach can drive success in the classroom, regardless of curriculum, because this is the foundation of a music classroom. This is exactly why music teachers are reaching and connecting with students in ways that other classrooms are not. It’s essential to overall student success for districts to partner with music educators and collaborate on ways to better understand and engage with students.

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Among the programs, organizations and school districts across the country that are helping to shape our next generation through music is Turnaround Arts, a program of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts that focuses on using the arts to create success in struggling schools.

As part of a whole-school approach to improvement, Turnaround Arts uses arts-based strategies to address a variety of school reform priorities, including attendance, discipline, family engagement and academic achievement. The program’s approach focuses on developing a school’s capacity and resources to deliver arts education and arts-integrated instruction, strategically leveraging resources to achieve broader school improvement goals. While nothing can replace a quality music teacher, it’s organizations like Turnaround Arts that are cultivating new paths for success.

We can’t forget about our educators. Teachers have to be equipped, and it’s up to us to equip them with resources and support. The music education community is trying to do everything it can to ensure students are successful. Each day music educators face the question: How can I meet the needs of every student in my classroom, no matter the behavioral issues or situation? We believe leadership support is vital. The entire district needs to be invested in and understand the value. This starts at the top.

At the Country Music Association Foundation, we knew that we needed to develop a new approach to our grant-making philosophy that would not just impact music classrooms but also the entire school. Big checks and instrument donations are important. However, these investments only work if they’re complemented by a sustainable, long-term strategy and support throughout a school district.

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If a student can use music as a coping mechanism and an outlet for his or her struggles, that student will go on to show success in core academic classes.

Our model of giving is focused on how music strengthens a school community and student outcomes rather than merely funding a program because it is in danger of being cut. Our investments drive advocacy and build strong programs that are sustainable and ultimately showcase the value that music provides to students across a district.

To reach students is to build community. Sitting down, listening and making intentional decisions about how we can supplement a solution through music is increasingly necessary to see student success. I challenge you to utilize your arts teachers, ask them to help you pull out your students’ stories and shape them into something positive. Welcome music into your classroom and watch your students begin to thrive.

This story about the conversation around music education was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.

Tiffany Kerns is executive director of the Country Music Association Foundation.

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Tiffany Kerns

Tiffany Kerns is executive director of the CMA (Country Music Association) Foundation. See Archive

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