Persevering in the face of widespread budget cuts, 100 communities in 30 states have been named the Best 100 Communities for Music Education in America for 2003, including the music program in the Aurelia School District.
The list, which represents an annual snapshot of music education at its best, stands in relief against a backdrop of widespread education budget cuts that threaten these and other music programs across the country. It is based on a nationwide survey conducted earlier this year by The American Music Conference and several partner organizations in the fields of music and education.
The unveiling of the survey results marks the culmination of "Music In Our Schools Month," an annual observance that highlights this vital topic. Earlier this month in Washington, The Music Education Coalition-an advocacy group that includes several of the same organizations that conducted the survey-launched a new online resource for music education advocates at www.SupportMusic.com, in response to the current situation. This new Web tool joins other established online resources like the Web site of the American Music Conference (www.amc-music.org) that inform and empower parents facing school music program funding cuts.More than at any previous time, the fourth annual survey highlights danger as well as success. Music education faces a crisis in America, as budget cuts and a new emphasis on standardized testing threaten to marginalize arts programs-even as new scientific evidence indicates they are more important to kids' development than previously suspected. Currently, up to 28 million American students do not receive an adequate music education., and the picture could well get worse. According to the Music Education Coalition, the current round of budget cuts could lead to curtailment of programs depriving as many as 30 million students-more than 60 percent of those enrolled in grades K-12-of an education that includes music. Communities represented on this year's Best 100 list are not immune from the danger.
Ironically, these cuts come at a time when the importance of music education is better understood than ever before. The College Entrance Examination Board found, for example, that students in music appreciation scored 63 points higher on the verbal and 44 points higher on the math sections of the SAT than students with no arts participation. U.S. Department of Education data on more than 25,000 secondary school students found that students who report consistent high levels of involvement in instrumental music over the middle and high school years show "significantly higher levels of mathematics proficiency by grade 12." And a 1999 study published in Neurological Research showed that 237 second grade children who used piano keyboard training and newly designed math software scored 27 percent higher on proportional math and fractions tests than children that used only the math software.
This year's survey was conducted jointly by the country's top organizations devoted to music and learning. The American Music Conference (www.amc-music.org) joined MENC: The National Association for Music Education (www.menc.org), The Music Teachers National Association (www.mtna.org), The National School Boards Association (www.nsba.org), Yamaha Corporation of America (www.yamaha.com) and VH1 Save The Music Foundation (www.vh1savethemusic.com) in creating the survey and interpreting the results. Perseus Development Corp. of Braintree, MA (www.perseus.com) donated its time and expertise to implement the web survey and to analyze the data it generated.
The results show that successful music programs are to be found in communities that balance measurable resources, such as budgets and buildings, with less tangible assets-such as the will to make quality music education a reality. The top schools for music education are to be found in urban communities and rural ones, in wealthy areas and not-so-wealthy ones, but the common thread is that they benefit from the support of parents, teachers, school decision-makers and community leaders who value music education highly. In today's environment, that community's willpower can be all that stands between a music program and its elimination."We are seeking to illustrate that music must take its rightful place alongside English and math as a subject that is core to any quality curriculum," says AMC Executive Director Rob Walker. "Unfortunately, even people who understand the importance of music education may not be aware of the depth of this crisis. By calling attention to communities that are doing well, we also want to make sure people understand the commitment necessary from communities that demand a quality education for their children-and how many other communities aren't so lucky. It is so often the will of organized parents' groups that gets music programs funded in the face of threatened cuts. The Best 100 Communities for Music Education program is designed to acknowledge this commitment and inspire others in the process."
Thousands of public school and independent teachers, school and district administrators, school board members, parents and community leaders, representing communities in all 50 states, participated in the Web-based survey during January and February. The Best 100 list is appended below, and the complete results, along with background information on music education and the survey, can be seen in their entirety at www.amc-music.org.
"We know that music education has the support of individuals across the nation," says MENC President Dr. Willie L. Hill, Jr. "We also know that the explosive mixture of economic troubles and untried systems of educational reform can lead to deep problems for music education programs-and for the kids that music education serves. That's why the process of identifying the communities most supportive of music education programs is so essential. We at MENC: The National Association for Music Education hope that communities across America take note of this survey and consider closely how they can best help keep music in all of our schools."
"Most school districts are grappling with meeting the accountability requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act," says Anne L. Bryant, Executive Director of the National School Boards Association. "Despite limitations of funding, many schools are seeking ways to strengthen instruction in math and reading without sacrificing other academic disciplines like music and the arts because they recognize the strong relationship between the arts and academic achievement. We applaud those school boards and communities which have developed a clear vision of quality education, then worked to create the kind of infrastructure that stands through the tough times."
Participants in the survey answered detailed questions about funding, enrollment, student-teacher ratios, participation in music classes, instruction time, facilities, support for the music program, participation in private music lessons and other factors in their communities' quality of music education. The responses were verified with district officials, and the sponsoring organizations reviewed the data.