It has become such a cliché that arts programs are the first to be nixed in schools with tight budgets that music-oriented giving groups do not question how a community prioritizes its class lists. They simply try to supplement in areas where the government money has run out.
On Monday, VH1 aired a Divas of Soul special to raise funds for the music channel’s affiliated nonprofit, the VH1 Save the Music Foundation. The group provides musical instruments to schools that agree to hire a certified music teacher and incorporate music as a core part of their curriculum.
“It’s a strictly philanthropic perspective,” said Paul Cothran, executive director of the foundation. “One of the great things about No Child Left Behind is it does say that music and art are core subjects. But testing isn’t done on those subjects.” Without a test to fall back on, music education can fall by the wayside as schools try to keep up with the requirements of the 2001 standards-setting law.
Most schools offer some type of music education, and No Child Left Behind has not altered that significantly. (Cothran says the decrease has occurred over decades, not in the last several years.) Ninety percent of elementary-school teachers reported no change in their music curriculum since the law was implemented, according to the Government Accountability Office. Perhaps not surprisingly, decreases in music training occurred in schools with higher percentages of minority students and those that were identified as needing improvement academically.
Educators generally see the value of music training, but Cothran says he constantly must convince school administrators that music is integral to a well-rounded student’s education. “We’re not looking to create the next great pop star,” he said. Music training has been shown to raise SAT scores in other subjects and help students think more analytically.
Outside funding plays a role in keeping music in schools, but not all schools use it and most don’t rely on it completely. About 20 percent of public elementary schools rely on non-district funding for their music programs, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, but that figure jumps to 47 percent in secondary schools. About half of the secondary schools with access to non-district funding reported that 10 percent or less of their music budget came from such sources.
The VH1 Save the Music Foundation donates up to $30,000 of musical equipment to schools that are willing to integrate music into their core curriculum. That initial financial investment often turns out to be the biggest barrier to music teaching in public schools, one that Cothran’s group is happy to remove. The foundation’s assistants, all music teachers, then are on hand to help the schools figure out how to work music into the day with math and science and reading.
It makes sense that a well-known TV channel dedicated to entertainment and the arts would play a role in getting music into schools. VH1 Save the Music is helped greatly by the VH1 name to lure businesses and foundations to donate. “It brings a lot of cache,” Cothran said.
With every step into the world of public schooling, VH1 Save the Music becomes embedded in sometimes-arcane education policy. Cothran finds himself urging Congress to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act and convincing states to maintain arts education as “core” subjects—an education term of art. “We’re an education group,” he said.