We decry the inequities that deny some city students access to an active music life.
In some respects, students living in America’s cities have access to social, cultural, and educational resources that town and rural regions may not have.
Cities often boast rich and diverse cultural environments.
Cities are home to close-knit and supportive communities, often based on strong social, ethnic, lingual, religious, familial, and historical ties.
City populations live in geographic proximity to one another, as well as to cultural institutions, including libraries, music venues, universities, museums, and public spaces.
Despite these assets, many city schools do not offer their students robust and sequential music education opportunities.¹ Moreover, there are strong correlations between a school’s music offerings and its proportion of students from low socioeconomic, non-white, and immigrant backgrounds. These correlations are the result of historical and current inequities that have shaped our nation and its cities.
+ Student Poverty
In America's cities, about one in four students live in poverty. Urban students are far more likely to attend a school in which more than 75 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches (a common proxy for school poverty concentration levels).² Poverty levels dramatically correlate to students' access to music opportunities in school. For example:
A 2011 demographic study of high school music students found that students in the highest socioeconomic quartile were nearly twice as likely as students in the lowest quartile to have participated in music during high school.³
Of high schools in which more than 75 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches, 19 percent did not offer even a single music course in the 2008-2009 academic year; many more did not offer comprehensive music programs to provide the full impact of an active music life.⁴
At the secondary school level, only 10 percent of music educators work at schools in the highest quartile of poverty concentration.⁵
In its most recent report on arts education, U.S. Department of Education noted that "whether a school offered music instruction varied by its concentration of poverty."⁶ For example, elementary schools with higher concentrations of poverty were significantly less likely to offer music year-round, to have dedicated rooms and equipment for music instruction, and to have arts specialists available to teach music.
Simply put, students who struggle with poverty are significantly less likely to enjoy substantial-or any-music opportunities in their schools, let alone access to private lessons or after-school music classes.
+ Student Race and Ethnicity
Compared to the nation as a whole, cities (and city schools) are home to a disproportionately large population of students of color. Approximately 70 percent of city students are students of color; this is 20 percent higher than the national average.⁷ This is due to the historical and ongoing patterns of racism and segregation that have shaped our nation and isolated "non-white" populations in urban areas. Like so many other aspects of educational, social, and cultural life, access to school music opportunities correlates to the color of a student's skin. For example, the larger a high school's proportion of students of color, the less likely it is that the school will offer even a single music class.⁸
+ Immigrant and First-Generation Students
At the time of the 2010 Census, nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population was born outside the United States.⁹ As in generations past, cities function as "gateways" for new immigrants. Of the more than 42 million foreign-born U.S. residents, 86 percent live in metropolitan areas.¹⁰ New arrivals are settling in cities across the nation-such as Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Phoenix-and 15 percent of city students are non-native English speakers.¹¹
Despite their large and increasing population, students who are born outside the United States or who are first-generation Americans are under-represented in music programs. For example, native English-speaking students are more than twice as likely as native Spanish-speaking students to have participated in music in high school, and although Latino students make up more than 20 percent of school populations, they comprise only about 10 percent of high school music students.¹²
Poverty, racial inequality, and anti-immigrant attitudes in U.S. cities create a “perfect storm” of social, cultural, and educational exclusion. In elementary and secondary city schools, this exclusion is manifested in a lack of access to and participation in school music programs. Our challenge is to reverse this pattern and ensure that all city students have access to an active music life regardless of their socioeconomic status, the color of their skin, or their birthplace.
Resources → Learn more about student in city schools
¹ The most recent data on arts offerings in public schools is from the 2008-09 academic year. See Basmat Parsad and Maura Spiegelman, “Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 1999-2000 and 2009-10. NCES 2012-014,” National Center for Education Statistics (2012).
² In 2013, 43% of students in city schools attended a school where more than 75% of the students received free or reduced-price lunch. Of black and Hispanic city students, more than 60% attended such schools. See U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data, Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey, 2013- 14, Table B.1.e.-1:
³ Kenneth Elpus and Carlos R. Abril, “High School Music Ensemble Students in the United States: A Demographic Profile,” Journal of Research in Music Education 59, no. 2 (July 2011): 138.
⁴ U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Fast Response Survey System, Secondary School Arts Education Survey: Fall 2009, Table 70: Percent and standard error for public secondary schools reporting whether various arts subjects were taught at the school, by school characteristics: School year 2008–09, https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2012/2012014/tables/ table_70.asp.
⁵ “Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools,” 22.
⁶ Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools,” 14.
⁷ “Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools,” 14-15.
⁸ U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data, Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey, 2013-14, Table B.1.b.-1: Number and percentage distribution of public elementary and secondary students, by race/ethnicity and school urban-centric 12-category locale: Fall 2013, https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ruraled/tables/ B.1.b.-1.asp?refer=urban.
⁹ Secondary Schools Arts Education Survey: Fall 2009, Table 70.
¹⁰ Audrey Singer, “Metropolitan immigrant gateways revisited, 2014,” Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, December 1, 2015, https://www.brookings.edu/research/metropolitan-immigrant- gateways-revisited-2014/.
¹¹ Singer, “Metropolitan immigrant gateways revisited, 2014.”
¹² U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Schools and Staffing Survey, Public School Data Files, 2011-12, Table B.1.d.-1: Number and percentage of public school students who were identified as limited-English pro cient (LEP), by locale and region: 2011-12, https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ ruraled/tables/B.1.d.-1.asp.
¹³ Elpus and Abril, “High School Music Ensemble Students in the United States: A Demographic Profile”: 138, 141.