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Millions of U.S. Students Denied Access to Music Education, According to First-Ever National Study

Christian Wissmuller • News • September 12, 2022

Despite significant progress made in recent years to keep music and the other arts in U.S. public schools, millions of U.S. public school students still do not have access to these programs. This is according to recent findings by The Arts Education Data Project (AEDP), which provides the first-ever review of the status and condition of music and arts education in U.S. public schools based on large-scale student participation data.

A joint effort between State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education and its longtime partner, Quadrant Research, the AEDP studied actual student participation data reported by school districts to their state education departments data from the 2019 school year. The result is the National Arts Education Status Report Summary 2019, a comprehensive look at access to and participation in arts education in public schools in the United States.

The report’s release coincides with NAMM Music Education Advocacy Hill Day on September 14, when members and arts education advocates join the industry association in Washington, D.C., to carry a message of support for music education to Members of Congress and their legislative aides.

It is also timed to National Arts in Education Week (September 11-17), when the field of arts education joins together in communities across the country to tell the story of the impact of the transformative power of the arts in education.

It’s a Matter of Equity in Education

The new AEDP report reveals that, while 92 percent of students in U.S. public schools have access to music education in school, 3,609,698* of students do not have that same opportunity. In addition, 2,095,538* students do not have access to any arts education (defined as dance, music, theatre or visual arts).

The new data also reveal that a disproportionate number of public-school students without access to music and arts education are concentrated in schools in major urban communities; have the highest percentage of students eligible for free/reduced price meals; and are either majority Black, Hispanic, or Native American. In addition, many of these students without music and arts education attend public charter schools.

Research shows that learning music results in educational, cognitive, social, emotional and physical benefits. For example, pioneering research conducted by neurobiologist Nina Kraus1 offers insight into how musical experience affects brain function across the lifespan. Findings to-date indicate that tapping into the brain’s potential for music learning supports overall learning, and is most critical for disadvantaged and under-served students.

To advance access and equity for all students, federal education law as defined by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) recognizes music and the arts as part of a well-rounded education.

Contrary to reports of a decline in the number of music and arts programs, the AEDP report confirms that music and arts education is widely accessible to students across the various grade spans, with participation at its highest in elementary schools because many states require participation at this level.

Music and visual art are the arts disciplines most available to students and therefore have the most significant participation. Most schools (80 percent) offer two or more of the arts disciplines.

Yet, despite this positive trend, there is room for improvement.

“Equity in education determines whether students can learn and grow with music and arts,” said Robert Morrison, CEO of Quadrant Research. “Before our new AEDP report, we had no large-scale national-level visibility into the actual status and condition of music and arts education in U.S. public schools. For the first time, we have a clear picture and can provide advocates, administrators, parents and policymakers with critical data to improve student access where it’s needed.”

More than 120 state agencies, arts councils, advocacy organizations, funders, and professional arts education associations are involved in this collective impact work.

The information in the AEDP report is from 30,633 schools in 7,015 districts from 17 states, representing 18 million students or 36 percent of the total public school student population in the United States for the 2018/2019 school year. States included are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

National funding for the Arts Education Data Project has been provided by the CMA Foundation, The Music Man Foundation, The NAMM Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Ohio Arts Council. In addition, various state agencies and state-based philanthropic organizations have provided individual state funding.

To learn more about the Arts Education Data Project, including links to individual state dashboards, visit https://artseddata.org/national_report_2019/ or http://NAMMfoundation.org.

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