Strategies For Low-Performing Schools
and At-Risk Youth
Following is a statement by VH1 President John Sykes and VH1
Save the Music Executive Director Bob Morrison to the National
Governors Association on February 25, 2001:
As you are well aware, we are entering a time of intense focus in
our country on improving our schools. As a citizen and a parent, it
is a breath of fresh air to see that providing our children with the
best possible education has brought everyone in this room together.
It is an issue that transcends political boundaries. I know it is a
priority for the group gathered here today, and I promise you it is
also one for us in the business community.
You've heard it here today. The question is no longer whether
reform is needed. The debate has now centered on how. This is
particularly true when we focus on reform efforts in low
performing schools and for our "at risk" youth.
While we do not pretend to have the solution to the larger issue of
how to improve our schools, we do believe we have an important part of
the solution: Music Education. When I say music education, I am not
referring to the exposure of our children to music (like listening to
classical CD's or taking kids to an orchestra concert). I am talking
about the sequential acquisition of skills and knowledge in music. I
am talking about making and playing music, as part of the regular
curriculum, available to all children.
That is why we started the VH1 Save The Music Foundation. VH1 Save
The Music is a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring music
education in our public schools and to raising awareness about the
importance of music participation for our nation's youth. We do this
primarily through VH1's reach into 74 million U.S. television homes.
Due to competing demands for time and money in our public schools,
music and arts education programs have, in many communities, been
eliminated over the past 30 years. The devastation to these programs
has been most significant in our more urban and rural schools. One
recurring theme I have visiting schools across the that high-performing schools, without exception, include
a robust music and arts education program while low-performing schools
in most instances do not.
The elimination of music programs has occurred against the
backdrop of a growing body of scientific research that has been
reinforcing what many of us in the music community have known
all along: Music Education Builds Brain Power. It is a key to
improving academic performance and a key to helping at-risk
students and low performing schools.
I won't ask you to take my word for it. Let's look at the body of
In a study released last year, second graders from a low income
school in Los Angeles were given eight months of piano keyboard
training, as well as time playing with newly designed music
software. The result? These students, taking the Stanford 9 Math
Test, went from scoring in the 30th to the 65th percentile. These
second graders were performing sixth grade math.
(Neurological Research, March 15, 1999; Gordon Shaw, Ph.D,
University of California, Irvine)
A related study by University of Wisconsin Professor, Dr. Frances
Rauscher published in 1997 in the Scientific Journal Neurological
Research showed that children involved with keyboard instruction
at early age showed significantly enhanced abstract reasoning
abilities, critical to success in science and complex math.
After learning about this research, the Wisconsin School District of
Kettle Moraine wanted to see how this concept would work in the real
world. They implemented a program that replicated the Rauscher study,
using kindergarten students and group piano instruction. At the end
of the school year, students in classes that had received piano
keyboard instruction outscored those who received no keyboard
instruction by 46 percent! The program has since expanded to K
through 6 students across the entire district.
The critical point here is the students were not taught math using
music...they were taught music. It was the process of learning
music that helped improve their math skills.
(Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 2000)
One of the issues for at-risk youth is drug and alcohol abuse. A
1999 report released by the Texas Commission on Drugs and
Alcohol abuse found that students involved in band or orchestra
(when compared against other student activities) reported the
lowest lifetime and current use of all substances (alcohol, tobacco,
or drugs).
(1999 Texas Commission On Drug and Alcohol Abuse)
According to the College Board, students involved with music
score an average of 100 points higher on SAT tests than students
who do not. The longer a student has been involved with music
instruction, the greater the difference.
(College Board Survey of SAT Test Takers 2000)
In another study, Dr. James Catterall of UCLA analyzed the school
records of 25,000 students from the NELS88 Database as they
moved through school. He found that students who studied music
had higher grades, scored better on standardized tests, and had
better attendance records. When he factored in economic status he
also found that students from poorer families who studied music
improved their overall school performance at the same rate or
faster than all others.
(Dr. James Catterall, UCLA, 1997)
In spite of this evidence, recent public concerns about declining
basic skills in reading and mathematics have led some school
districts to narrow their curriculum, eliminating subjects like
music, in an effort to improve scores on standardized tests.
The result has been the creation of an educational and cultural
caste system. A system of have and have-nots. A system where
the elementary school children in the suburbs surrounding
Baltimore all have music. But, in the city, only 13 of 130
elementary schools include music. The same is true for other areas
from Boston to Los Angeles, Milwaukee to New Orleans.
So...on the one hand, we have all of this research. On the other
hand we have this unfortunate reality.
Inspired by much of this research, and stunned by our first hand
knowledge of the limitation of music instruction in New York City
public schools, we formed our VH1 Save The Music Foundation in
1997...In many instances, our work in a community is the first
time many of these schools have had instrumental music programs
in more than 20 years.
Besides the academic impact of music instruction, we were
pleasantly surprised to find some additional benefits:
1. Music programs are a catalyst for creating parental involvement
in schools. The parents not only come to see their children
perform, they visit the after school rehearsals and interact with
the teachers and school officials. For many parents it is the first
time they have ever visited their child's school.
2. Music programs have attracted other members of the community, from
senior citizens to local business leaders. Once people are in the
school, they are able to see firsthand the efforts of the school, not
just in music, but in other areas as well.
3. Because students are involved in the study of music during the
school day, they practice music after school. It is clear that if a
child has an instrument in his or her hand, there is less chance of
picking up something more damaging, like a crack pipe, a needle, a
bottle or a gun.
4. In many instances, music has become the motivating factor for a
child to stay in school. Sharon Johnson, from Parham Elementary
[in Cincinnati] has emphatically pointed this out to us. So have
hundreds of other principals, teachers, students and parents who
have written to us at VH1. Participation in a school music
program in many instances becomes the only reason a child comes
to school.
So what does the public think of this? A Gallup survey conducted
last spring showed that:
- 78% of Americans agree that states should mandate music
education for all students
- 85% agree that communities should provide the financial
resources for these programs
- And a whopping 93% agree that schools should offer music
instruction as part of the basic curriculum
I am sure any of you would be happy to have these approval
So, we've heard the evidence. What we need now is action. So
here is how you can help:
As An Organization: We strongly urge that you open the aperture
on core subjects covered through your efforts with "Achieve" and
look closely at the direct academic benefits of music education.
We applaud the work many of you have done and we understand
the pressure created by the TIMMS Study to focus on the "basic
core" subject areas.
We believe the time has come to include music education in your areas
of concern, data collection, standards comparisons and best practices
reporting. This is a small request. But its impact, and the message
it will send to education officials around the country, will be
Be careful about the unintended consequences often caused by
emphasizing only reading, math, and accountability. We all agree
about the need to stress these issues. But, we need to be sure that
we do so in a way that does not send a signal to local communities
that this must be done at the expense of music or arts education.
We now have solid proof that the two go hand in hand. The
solution we all seek is not achieved by forcing schools to choose.
In Your States: Focus on what is happening with music in the
regular curriculum. The real benefits of music and arts education
that we have discussed today come from them being conducted as
an academic subject.
Examine the research. Develop your own understanding of the
critical impact these programs have on the development of our
children, our schools, and our communities. And don't take our
word for it. Talk to educators in cities and schools across your
state where these music programs are working.
Do you have policies in place and do you promote policies that
include music education as an equal educational partner (like math,
reading, history and science)? We believe you should.
Do you have standards for the arts? If so, have you established an
assessment process? Having standards and an assessment process
for music and arts education sends the unmistakable message that
the arts are a part of a basic education.
And what would any presentation to a group of distinguished
governors be without a request for more money! Some small
targeted investments in music can reap years and years of
educational rewards.
We are well aware of the challenges you face every day providing
leadership for your states. We do not expect you to wake up first
thing every day and think about how to put music and arts
education back into the classroom. But, we do hope that, based on
the information we are sharing with you today, you will recognize
its incredible academic power. We believe this so strongly that we
have committed millions of dollars of our own. We are not
lobbyists. We operate a cable television network and we are
parents. Our only vested interest is in our children.
You know in a business like VH1...there is one part of the budget
you never cut! It's called Product Development. Well, the
children in this country are the future products of our society.
They are our future customers, our leaders and our neighbors. And
as Superintendent Floyd [of Cincinnati] said earlier so eloquently,
"children don't control where they live and they can't vote." It's
up to us.
We hope the NGA and each of you in your own states will study
and adopt these recommendations. We welcome the opportunity to
be your partner in this process.
We're here to work with you. Bob and I welcome your questions
or comments.
Thank you!
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