It Turns Out Funding Music Education Costs Less Than Everyone Thought

A first-of-its-kind study sheds light on the true cost of music education.

A new report breaks down the cost of keeping music programs in schools. (Photo: NY Daily News via Getty Images)
Suzi Parker is a journalist whose work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

Music education doesn’t have to be expensive.

According to a new study, the annual cost for a comprehensive K-12 music education program is only about $187 per student annually.

The first-of-its-kind study, funded by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation’s Sounds of Learning research initiative, reports that it’s fairly economical to keep music education in schools if funding and cutting is balanced. NAMM is a not-for-profit association that works to promote the $17 billion music products industry.

The study’s author, Mark L. Fermanich, a research associate with the Center for Education Policy Analysis in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver, said that the research highlights the real costs of comprehensive music education.

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“It also asks school districts to carefully assess the effects of ‘cutting’ music education programs as they seek to reduce expenditures or re-allocate funds away from the arts to tested subjects that are measured for accountability purposes,” Fermanich said in a release.

Fermanich, who has researched education finance, effectiveness, and reform, focused on a school district with more than 70,000 students during the 2009-2010 school year. It included urban, suburban, and rural schools with 25 percent minority students and 25 percent of the student population eligible for Title I funds. The district had a budget of $853 million, with $13.9 million allocated for music education.

Music education has long been on the chopping block in public schools. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics—in part with the U.S. Department of Education—released earlier this year stated that arts education continues to be a concern for “policymakers, educators and families.” It noted that music was almost universally available in all pubic schools.

But other studies, including Fermanich’s, states that No Child Left Behind’s stringent accountability on subjects other than the arts and the budget crisis facing schools have dramatically reduced arts funding.

The study showed that music education cost around $195 in first through fifth grades. Fermanich looked at a mandatory 45-minute music class per three-day cycle. The amount decreased slightly in middle school to $189 and to $143 in high school, where music instruction is elective.

Various studies have shown that music education decreases students’ involvement in delinquent behavior and improves their self-image and attitudes. Piano keyboard training often helps students with math skills. Experts have also found a correlation between students with experience in music performance and music appreciation and higher scores on standardized tests, including the SAT. In the 1990s, Lewis Thomas, a physician and biologist, studied medical school applicants’ undergraduate majors. He found that 66 percent of music majors who applied to medical school were admitted—the highest percentage of any group.

Fermanich noted in his study that school music programs correlated with lower dropout rates and higher school engagement.

To dismiss music education and its relatively cheap cost for school districts is a precarious choice for schools.

“School districts are facing tough choices as state and local education funding is strained. NAMM encourages school districts to consider the many benefits of music education in comparison to the relatively low cost within the overall budget as revealed by this study,” said Joe Lamond, president and CEO of NAMM in a release. “We cannot sell a child's education short for what are pennies on the dollar. Music education is among the best investments we can make in our schools and for our children.”

Has music education been cut from your kid's school? Tell us in comments.

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