Last summer, the BSD posted a hypothetical story about a girl named Lilly, whose potential was ‘unlocked’ by teacher collaboration time. In response, the Beaverton Friends of Music have written a parallel hypothetical story about a girl named *Lily*, who would blossom in myriad ways if the BSD supported music education along only the nationally recommended *minimums*. As amazing as it may seem, multitudes of research studies have confirmed that music education yields the kinds of benefits described in our story.
Imagine a district full of Lilys who each get such rich and broad benefits, and can then go on to share their knowledge and skills with their communities and meet the challenges of the 21st century world-at-large with a full range of options available, ready for college and career. In these days in which we are called on to do more with less, retaining and building our music education is a clear, obvious choice for maximum “return on educational investment” for all of Beaverton’s children. Here is Lily’s story.
Unlocking Student Potential through Music Education
The Beaverton School District is moving forward, in conversation with the teachers’ association, to plan for a consistent time for certified music teachers to give music education to students in every school. This plan will meet the minimum recommended national standard of 90 minutes per week for elementary students and 3 hours per week for those in middle school and high school instrumental and vocal ensembles. The change will represent an increase of an average of 60 minutes per week over the music time elementary students formerly received, and an average of 30 minutes per week over the music time middle students formerly received.
Lily is in third grade. Her family moved to the area several months ago. While she does well in most areas, Lily struggles in math. Her parents were apprehensive about the new school, given Lily’s challenges in math. They met with the principal and learned that schools in Beaverton will now give the students music at least a half hour of music three days a week. Lily’s parents already knew that children who receive comprehensive instruction in music score better on their math and reading tests. The principal at Lily’s new school shared with the parents some of research data on music education that demonstrate multidimensional individual growth, including a study that found musical training far superior to computer training in dramatically enhancing abstract reasoning skills—those used in math and science—from a young age.*
Lily is personally known by the music teacher at her new school, and the music teacher will remember her year after year because she will loop with her students throughout grade school. The results of the new music education policy are in, and they are impressive. Since Lily’s school adopted the national minimum seat time for music as part of its core curriculum, Lily’s achievement in math has skyrocketed from the single digits to over 80%. Lily feels good about herself. Her parents can clearly see the pride and confidence Lily has developed as a musician, and how it carried over to school in general, especially math.
How did this happen? Through the power of music education. Lily loves music because it is the only time of the day she can forget about her problems and create something special as part of a large team. Music stimulates Lily’s mind in a unique way, allowing her to combine the technical and the aesthetic. When making music, Lily and her fellow students are constantly monitoring what they are hearing, seeing, and doing, while making decisions on adjusting tempo, tone, style, rhythm, phrasing, and feeling. This process trains their brain to become effective at organizing and conducting numerous activities at once. In addition, Lily is learning teamwork and other social skills, as well as experiencing the effort and discipline it takes to create a good product. Lily leaves music class feeling refreshed, renewed, and prepared to continue learning back in her homeroom.
The staff at Lily’s school knows that giving children the maximum amount of instructional time with certified teachers leads to the best outcome for the students. Certified music teachers carefully construct lessons that integrate all subject areas within a musical context. Another benefit of increasing music education time is that while students are learning important skills in music class, their homeroom teachers can use that time to collaborate and improve instructional strategies for students like Lily who may be struggling in certain areas, or those who need greater challenges.
Research finds abundant and consistent confirmation of Lily’s experience: that music education leads to greater general academic achievement, individual student growth, and personal success. Music education helps students do so many things at a higher level, including processing language, developing spatial and multiple other intelligences, organizing information, creative thinking and problem solving.
Lily’s story illustrates the dynamic power of music education when it is prioritized as part of the core curriculum. For decades, Beaverton schools have offered music taught by certified specialists, but they have never yet met the national recommended minimums. Students have benefited immensely from this instruction as it stands, yet they will benefit even more widely and deeply when allowed the critical minimum time. Further, regular music class creates time for homeroom teacher collaboration, for teachers to meet in learning teams to know better each student’s strengths and challenges, and to meet their specific learning needs, while strengthening their own teaching practice. Collaboration can thus happen without schools having to resort to complicated late starts or activities with non-certified staff. Working together, music teachers and classroom teachers can educate the whole child in Beaverton schools through ensuring consistent, sufficient music time each week, and year after year.
*Shaw, Rauscher, Levine, Wright, Dennis and Newcomb, “Music training causes long-term enhancement of preschool children’s spatial-temporal reasoning,” Neurological Research, Vol. 19, February 1997. Please visit http://www.childrensmusicworkshop.com/advocacy/benefits.html for more information.