The repercussions of cutting music education in the US

Sports, STEM; sports, STEM.

It is no myth that high schools all across the United States often overlook a music education in favor of athletics or science, technology, engineering and math subjects or athletics. Sure, a lot of the job market consists of STEM, but what does STEM lack? Expression and creativity.

This weekend is the Bands of America Grand National Championships, where 100 bands from across the country will descend upon Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, to compete in the largest marching championship in the U.S.

Bands of America is a part of Music for All, an organization dedicated to promoting music education in our schools, from elementary school to the collegiate level. The non-profit hosts hundreds of marching bands nationwide in several regional, super regional championships and the grand national championships.

I have participated in this circuit for five years and currently teach with a marching band. Over the years, I have seen a decline in music education, from lack of funding to faculty cuts at other school districts across the nation. I was saddened to learn that my alma mater, which has a distinguished record of musical excellence spanning decades, is now among those music programs who have suffered at the hands of education budget cuts.

Recently, I attended the Bands of America San Antonio Super Regional Championships in San Antonio, Texas. I bore witness to the greatest feats of the marching arts I have seen in my entire life.

The competition, very much dominated by Texas schools (everything really is bigger than Texas), had several schools travel from far away to compete, from as close as Oklahoma and Utah to as far as California, Missouri and Ohio. Hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours of rehearsal all for music education.

Of the top four placements at San Antonio, three of the schools came from the Leander Independent School District (a district of six high schools). Also the home of the recently awarded UIL State Marching Band 5A champion and the reigning UIL State Marching Band 6A champion, the school district scored a 95% on the Texas State Accountability Ratings. Does the proficiency of the marching arts in the district contribute to higher test scores?

Countless research has proven this to be true. The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) noted higher test scores from students who participate in music programs. This includes a higher IQ in students as well.

Everyone knows how much schools enjoy high test scores, so why do they continually cut the budgets of music departments if music is helping their students academically and socially? To be honest, I do not know.

There are countless theories as to why music departments nationwide are underfunded. Some like to blame athletics and the logic there is sound. There are more sports teams and sports games than there are music programs and music concerts. Thinking quantitatively, music programs “do not do as much” than sports teams, despite countless hours dedicated to their “15 minutes of fame.”

And then there is the influence of colleges. Most colleges care about two things: test scores and grade point averages. Not every college or university looks for well-rounded students. To combat this, high schools flood their students with four long years of STEM.

Let’s not forget about standardized tests, either. Excluding specialized Advanced Placement exams, I have yet to see a standardized test that did not involve math, reading or science. Students who score high on these exams benefit the school with a boost of funding. So why have band when you have to prepare kids for these tests?

I think the most significant factor for music programs being cut is how society perceives them. The music industry as a career path has been struggling recently, with not enough jobs to fill those seeking a career in music. Additionally, music will often go unnoticed in communities who have little exposure to the arts.

Everyone will notice if you cut a math class, but what if band goes away? Everyone will be none the wiser.

Not every school administration has it out for the musicians. In San Antonio, one high school live-streamed their bands performance to the whole school. A school district superintendent attended the event. A high school principal is on staff in one band.

Cutting music programs is not advantageous nor logical, but alas, it continues to happen nationwide.

What will always be the deciding factor of arts at a school? Money. When the money is lacking, the arts goes packing.