Amping Music Instruction: A Nonprofit Program Reduces the Achievement Gap in Low-Income Schools

Article excerpt


Blaire Lennane was thrilled when a charity offered a year ago to provide the teachers and subsidies necessary to start a music program in her daughter's elementary school.

Lennane's daughter, Gala, attends Dorris Place Elementary, one of the poorest schools in Los Angeles. More than 80 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. So, when Lennane began fundraising for a state-of-the-art music program at her daughter's school, she was not sure how many people in the surrounding community would donate.

That's when the Education Through Music (ETM) charity stepped in to help. They provided Lennane's group, Partners of Dorris, with both the instructors and matching funds required to provide a sequential, year-round music curriculum for every child in Dorris Place Elementary. The curriculum included professional development for teachers and performance opportunities for students.

Lennane says the impact of the program was enormous. She says she was particularly moved when the parent of a special-needs student hugged her and said that his son found a sense of belonging when he started playing cello for the school orchestra. The ETM organization, she says, "at first appeared to be too good to be true," but they surpassed her expectations.


A formidable challenge

"The mission of ETM is to ensure that every American child gets a comprehensive music education, but that is a formidable challenge. More than 2 million American schoolchildren receive no music instruction whatsoever, and those children are disproportionately poor, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. The organization estimates that nearly 20 percent of low-income K12 students are not offered music courses.

"We're very, very concerned that we have a whole generation of people that do not have an adequate education in the arts," says Katherine Damkohler, the executive director of ETM. "Our goal is to put ourselves out of business, but we have a long way to go."

For over two decades, ETM has provided subsidies to Title I schools that could not otherwise afford music instruction. The organization operates in New York City and Los Angeles but hopes to expand nationwide.

Damkohler says the demand for the ETM program has grown in recent years due to shrinking school budgets and reduced public funding for music education. Michael Butera, the president of the National Association for Music Education, says that many U.S. schools have eliminated their music classes to focus resources on subjects like math and language arts that are evaluated by standardized tests.

"There's been a narrowing of the curriculum, which does not bode well for America," he says. "We need to get the public to demand an education that is beyond the bubbles, that is about more than just sitting at a desk and taking a test."

Why music?

Teaching music is one of the most effective ways to close the achievement gap between rich and poor students, Butera says. Research shows there is a strong correlation between music education and academic performance, and that this effect is particularly pronounced among the economically disadvantaged. …