U.S. Senators Dodd and Alexander Announce Findings of GAO Music and Arts Education Study

March 16, 2009

Senators Chris Dodd (D- CT) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today announced the release of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study addressing access to music and arts education for public school students as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Dodd and Alexander called for the study in response to reports that the testing requirements of NCLB were forcing some schools, particularly those that serve low-income and minority students, to narrow their curriculum and restrict access to music and arts education.

“This study’s findings clearly show that many students across the country are losing their chance to study music and the arts,” said Dodd, Chairman of the Children & Families Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. “I hope the Department of Education will follow the GAO’s recommendation and conduct further research into this disturbing trend. Moreover, I hope that the GAO will reconsider its conclusions by reviewing current research on arts education and student outcomes. No child – regardless of family income, race, or hometown – should be denied the opportunity to discover and develop his or her unique talents.”

“We know the importance of a well-rounded education, and this study shows that some school districts are narrowing their curriculum instead of broadening it,” said Alexander, Ranking Republican on the Children & Families Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP). “While we must ensure that our children are prepared in reading and mathematics, we know that good school leaders find creative ways to include music in the curriculum, too. I hope that Congress will reexamine the role of Washington mandates and provide flexibility for state and local leaders to ensure that our students can read and write, understand mathematics, know science, have a knowledge of U.S. history, and also have an appreciation for music.”

"Emerging research continues to demonstrate the importance of music and arts education to children and young people in U.S. public schools," said Mary Luehrsen, executive director of the NAMM Foundation. "We hope that this GAO study contributes to an on-going and productive dialogue about ways to keep music education strong in our schools and communities to assure access for all children especially those that have experienced reductions in this element of the core curriculum."

The study, entitled “Access to Arts Education,” outlined the following conclusions:

• The study identified a decrease in instruction time for arts education with "statistically significant" differences across school characteristics (low-income, minority, urban/rural). Specifically, teachers at schools identified as needing improvement and those with higher percentages of minority students, were more likely to report a reduction in time spent on the arts.

• Teachers at elementary schools with high percentages of low-income or minority students reported larger arts instruction time reductions than teachers in schools with low percentages of low-income or minority students.

• Of 32 states that awarded arts education grants (in school years 2001-2002 and 2006-2007), 37 percent had funding decreases and 15 percent had funding increases. Arts education officials attributed this to decreased budgets and competing demands on instruction time.

The GAO study recommended that the Department of Education, in its planned study of NCLB implementation, include questions that would help clarify why instruction time in music and arts education has decreased for some students. The study also indicated that from the perspective of the GAO, research on the effect of arts education on student success is inconclusive. However, the GAO’s referenced research was published in 2000 and fails to take into account current and ongoing research, both qualitative and quantitative, that provides contemporary knowledge about the role and impact of arts education.