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Nashville Public Schools Continue to Set Example for How Music Education Can Bounce Back

Nashville Public Schools Continue to Set Example for How Music Education is Bouncing Back

With the recent push for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education coupled with a culture of "teaching to the test" thanks to an unprecedented number of annual assessments, music education has suffered dramatically on a national level. Now, school districts are looking to elevate the importance of music education once again thanks to growing support and the inclusion of music education into the definition of "well-rounded education" by the Every Student Succeeds Act. Public schools in Nashville, Tennessee, specifically, are poised to serve as a model for how music education can bounce back.

Many experts say the dramatic decline in music education became noticeable in the early 2000s. In 2004, a report from the California Department of Education, for example, found that from the 1999-2000 school year to the 2003-2004 school year, despite the state's population increasing by over 5 percent, the percentage of students enrolled in music education declined by 50 percent. 

The report pointed to the emphasis of No Child Left Behind on reading, math and science, the assessments attached to these subjects, and the fact the budget problems that the state’s school districts were dealing with on a yearly basis as the main culprits behind the decline. These problems, though outlined in the context of California’s public schools, were felt by school districts across the country and as a whole, music education declined.

Advocates for a well-rounded public school education including access to music education began to act. Many of those advocates have been setting their eyes on public schools within the "Music City"-- Nashville, Tennessee. Since 2006, the Country Music Association (CMA) has donated $11 million to Metro Nashville Public Schools, with $1 million of that money being donated to the school system this week.

This money has helped to provide instruments in every Nashville public school, and the new donation will help provide coaching to every music teacher working in the district and will support the creation of CMA Music Teachers of Excellence, which CMA says will be "a competitive teacher recognition program with a grant award of $5,000 for up to 20 teachers."

Metro Nashville Public Schools are also supported by some of the most successful music education programs in the country, like Music Makes Us. The organization is specifically working towards the goal of providing all K-12 students in the district with access to "opportunities for participation in high quality traditional and/or contemporary music instruction that is standards-based and sequential, taught by highly qualified music educators and enhanced by a network of music professionals, music industry and community based organizations from the Nashville community and beyond" within the next three years.

Studies have shown that access to music education is beneficial to students in many ways, as advocates fighting for increased access often reference.

"Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain's circuits in specific ways. Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds," says the Children's Music Workshop according to PBS.

PBS indicates that research supports the theory that music education can improve young children’s IQs, spatial intelligence and overall work ethic to culminate with improved test scores and overall achievement.

Metro Nashville Public Schools’ Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph referenced this research in a statement he made on CMA’s continued support of music education in the district.

"As we think about a more aggressive effort to strengthen and improve our public schools, music education is a central ingredient -- not just because we are Music City, but because the research shows it can have a lasting impact on student success," he said.

"I am so proud of what the District has already done to build one of the strongest music education programs in the country, but even more optimistic about what the future will bring with partners like CMA."

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor


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