EducationWatch: Eye-Opening Arts Studies

Research into arts education is revealing; New orchestra discovery network for composers
Laurel Fishman

Results from "Within Our Power" — a precedent-setting study of findings and recommendations from the New Jersey Arts Education Census Project — were recently released during a live Webcast report, "The Progress, Plight and Promise of Arts Education for Every Child." The most comprehensive of its kind in the nation, the survey generated a more than a 98 percent response rate, evaluating arts education in every K-12 public school in New Jersey. A key finding is that school size and the influence of educators and parents strongly determine the quality of arts in the schools, as opposed to strictly socioeconomic factors. Recommendations include that the state's Board of Education build upon existing policies, implement an accountability process, and conduct a review of schools where there are no arts programs, in preparation to restore them. During the Webcast, which was also presented in front of a live audience, David Bryan of Bon Jovi spoke about his arts education background in New Jersey public schools and emphasized accessibility to arts education for all students.

Another groundbreaking study has been attracting attention among music education professionals and advocates. Earlier this year, Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy and associate dean of the University of Kansas School of Fine Arts, revealed results of his research in the "Examination of Relationships Between Participation in School Music Programs of Differing Quality and Standardized Test Results." The first study to examine the impact of school music programs on test scores, Johnson's research involved identifying schools in four regions of the country, then studying elementary and middle schools in each region and comparing test scores from schools with similar demographics and differing qualities of music programs. In his analysis of the relationship between student participation in quality music education and standardized testing outcomes, Johnson found that students at schools with exceptional music programs consistently scored higher. He also discovered that students who participated in lower-quality band programs scored higher than those who did not participate at all.

In an effort to identify emerging composers across the country, increase awareness of these composers and create access to their music, the American Composers Orchestra is evaluating a survey it recently completed. Gathering information to establish the National Orchestral Composition Discovery Network, ACO seeks to set up an alliance among orchestras and provide professional-level working experience for emerging composers in collaboration with orchestra partners and music organizations. Initiatives include emerging-composer competitions, workshops, the development of new repertoire, and programs yielding opportunities for up-and-coming composers. The National Orchestral Composition Discovery Network will also institute a mentorship program of composers and conductors, and open up dissemination opportunities, including through broadcast and digital media.

Aired during the recent broadcast of the Drum Corps International World Championships on ESPN2, six public service announcements motivated viewers to keep music education programs strong in their communities via the free tools and resources of The ESPN2 broadcast featured segments from the competitive performances of the 12 elite corps that competed to win the Drum Corps International championship trophy. Of the 72 percent of corps members who are full-time college students, nearly 60 percent of them are pursuing music-education degrees. Now three decades old, the nonprofit DCI has developed into a powerful global youth activity with far-reaching artistic, educational and organizational influence, with millions of DCI followers attending the competitions and participating in DCI-sponsored educational programs. is a public-service national affiliate of the SupportMusic Coalition, which now represents more than 140 organizations united to support a complete education that includes music and the arts for all children.

Several thousand schoolchildren recently participated in National Anthem Day events, educating the students about the anthem's history, demonstrating the important role music teachers play in passing on American historical traditions, and highlighting school music programs. On Sept. 14, Anthem Day music educators nationwide coordinated their students in singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at 9 a.m. in their local time zones.

(Laurel Fishman is a writer and editor specializing in entertainment media. She reports regularly for and is an advocate for the benefits of music making, music listening, music education, music therapy and music-and-the-brain research.)


Email Newsletter