We call for all city students to have access to in-school music education taught by certified music educators.
Confronting inequities in school-based music education will require a two-fold effort: On one hand, we must create music opportunities in schools where they do not currently exist. Simultaneously, we must strengthen and expand existing music programs so they become more robust and inclusionary.
Developing new in-school opportunities
There are city schools which simply do not offer any music classes at all. To address this inequity, music-making opportunities must be made available in schools where they currently do not exist.
The creation of new in-school music education opportunities requires that school leaders recognize the value of music as part of a well-rounded education.¹ The implementation of new music education opportunities will take different forms depending on how a school district is structured. Each district should develop its own strategy within its larger educational ecosystem. Local and national organizations are available to help schools and districts implement new or reinvigorate dormant music programs. Private foundations can “jump-start” music programs by providing resources if a school or district commits to including music as a core subject. Local partnerships can also be influential in the development of new music offerings by demonstrating community commitment to in-school music education.
Strengthening and expanding current opportunities
It is essential to recognize that “access” does not simply refer to the existence of music opportunities at a school: it means that opportunities are easily accessible to all interested students. While a school may report “offering” music, it does not always follow that all interested students are able to participate; some remain excluded from this fundamental part of a well-rounded education due to a variety of financial, social, structural, and musical barriers. Each student should have equal access to a rich, meaningful, and inclusive music life. To address this, we must make existing music opportunities in city schools more robust and inclusive.
We call for both school leadership and classroom music educators to consider the ways in which their current practices might be exclusionary to students. By examining current practices and trends—however uncomfortable doing so might be—it is possible to identify the barriers that prevent potentially interested students from participating in music. These may include:
+ Financial barriers
Prohibitive costs, including purchase/rental of an instrument and fees for uniforms or transportation; incapacity to pay for outside-of-school enrichment opportunities including private lessons and summer music intensives; the need to spend out-of-school hours in employment rather than in rehearsals or practicing.
+ Social barriers
Experiences of social exclusion, including the sense of not belonging; students may not perceive support for their musical interests from general educators, school counselors, or parents.
+ Structural barriers
Music courses may be inconsistent in duration and frequency, preventing students from building mastery over time; students identified as English language learners may not be able to accommodate music courses in their schedule or may be pulled out of electives for ESL programming.
+ Musical barriers
An emphasis on traditional Western genres (band, string orchestra, and choir) may isolate students from other cultures; students who have rich informal music lives outside of school may feel that their musical culture and skill is not valued in the classroom.
These are certainly not the only reasons that potentially interested students choose not to or are not able to participate in school music opportunities. It is up to teachers and school leaders to engage in self-examination to identify their students’ needs. Once potential barriers have been identified, teachers and leaders can take action to mitigate—or, better, eliminate—those barriers. This might include utilizing culturally responsive pedagogy, expanding the genres and styles that are taught, creating mentorship networks (including those with outside partners), and working with school counselors to address scheduling conflicts. From small creative changes to strategic systemic reform, music education can be made more inclusive and engage a broader cross-section of city students.
Resources → Learn more about making existing music programs more inclusive