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High School Music Classes Remain Popular, but Hispanics Lag Behind

• June 06, 2014 • 4:00 AM

(Photo: OtnaYdur/Shutterstock)

New research finds that, contrary to fears, the No Child Left Behind act had little impact on enrollment in music courses.

As debate heats up over the new Common Core standards for American schools, a timely new study looks back at the impact of the last attempt to improve the education system: No Child Left Behind.

When that act was implemented in 2002, some scholars feared its emphasis on test scores—particularly in the areas of math and reading—would narrow students’ focus and discourage enrollment in elective classes, especially music. After all, who has time for piano lessons when there is another math quiz in the morning?

Writing in the Journal of Research in Music education, University of Maryland researcher Kenneth Elpus reports those fears turned out to be overstated. “NCLB may have had no discernible effect on overall enrollment rates in music,” he writes.

“It should be heartening for most music teachers to learn that a core group of just over one-third of all U.S. high schools students, for nearly 30 years, has consistently chosen to enroll in a music class.”

However, his analysis—which tracked 9th- through 12th-grade enrollment in music classes from 1982 to 2009—concludes that the law “likely exacerbated the underrepresentation of Hispanic students in all types of music courses.”

Specifically, Elpus found the percentage of students enrolling in at least one high school music class went down among three groups: Hispanics, students with Individualized Education Plans, and English Language Learner students (who enter school knowing virtually no English).

“The precise mechanism through which these students were excluded from music courses remains an open question,” he writes. “It is possible that school administrators, responding to consequential accountability pressures, systematically denied access to music courses for these subgroups in favor of courses more closely aligned with the high-stakes test.”

While Elpus finds that troubling, he adds that “it should be heartening for most music teachers to learn that a core group of just over one-third of all U.S. high schools students, for nearly 30 years, has consistently chosen to enroll in a music class.”

What’s more, he notes, “for students who do elect music, the average number of courses taken was increasing across this sample, with 9.4 percent of the class of 2009 persisting through at least four years’ worth of music courses, compared to just 5.4 percent of the class of 1982.”

How the new Common Core standards impact those figures remains to be seen. But for those of us convinced that the creativity and teamwork kids learn in music class is a vital part of their education, it’s good to know these courses continue to attract students in big numbers.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

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