Our sons were raised with music, violin lessons at age 5 for one and piano lessons at age 6.5 for the other. This topic occupies a Chapter in my book. Music is lyrical, mathematical, calming, mind elevating, and essential to human life. Look around you at the ones who have no music in their lives and then read this Wall Street Journal article, which proves my theory of preschool brain development that I championed so long ago in the lives of our sons.
“American education is in perpetual crisis. Our students are falling ever farther behind their peers in the rest of the world. Learning disabilities have reached epidemic proportions, affecting as many as one in five of our children. Illiteracy costs American businesses $80 billion a year.
Many solutions have been tried, but few have succeeded. So I propose a different approach: music training. A growing body of evidence suggests that music could trump many of the much more expensive “fixes” that we have thrown at the education system.
Plenty of outstanding achievers have attributed at least some of their success to music study. Stanford University’s Thomas Sudhof, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine last year, gave credit to his bassoon teacher. Albert Einstein, who began playing the violin at age 6, said his discovery of the theory of relativity was “the result of musical perception.”
Until recently, though, it has been a chicken-and-egg question: Are smart, ambitious people naturally attracted to music? Or does music make them smart and ambitious? And do musically trained students fare better academically because they tend to come from more affluent, better educated families?
New research provides some intriguing answers. Music is no cure-all, nor is it likely to turn your child into a Nobel Prize winner. But there is compelling evidence that it can boost children’s academic performance and help fix some of our schools’ most intractable problems.
Music raises your IQ.
E. Glenn Schellenberg, a University of Toronto psychology professor, was skeptical about claims that music makes you smarter when he devised a 2004 study to assess its impact on IQ scores. He randomly assigned 132 first-graders to keyboard, singing or drama lessons, or no lessons at all. He figured that at the end of the school year, both music and drama students would show bumps in IQ scores, just because of “that experience of getting them out of the house.” But something unexpected happened. The IQ scores of the music students increased more than those of the other groups.
Another Canadian study, this one of 48 preschoolers and published in 2011, found that verbal IQ increased after only 20 days of music training. In fact, the increase was five times that of a control group of preschoolers, who were given visual art lessons, says lead researcher Sylvain Moreno, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He found that music training enhanced the children’s “executive function”—that is, their brains’ ability to plan, organize, strategize and solve problems. And he found the effect in 90% of the children, an unusually high rate.
Music training can reduce the academic gap between rich and poor districts.
The Harmony Project in Los Angeles gives free instrument lessons to children in impoverished neighborhoods. Margaret Martin, who founded the program in 2001, noticed that the program’s students not only did better in school but also were more likely to graduate and to attend college.
To understand why, Northwestern University neurobiologist Nina Kraus spent two years tracking 44 6-to-9-year-olds in the program and then measured their brain activity. She found a significant increase in the music students’ ability to process sounds, which is key to language, reading and focus in the classroom. Academic results bore that out: While the music students’ reading scores held steady, scores for a control group that didn’t receive lessons declined.
Prof. Kraus found similar results in a 2013 study published in Frontiers in Educational Psychology of 43 high-school students from impoverished neighborhoods in Chicago. Students randomly assigned to band or choir lessons showed significant increases in their ability to process sounds, while those in a control group, who were enrolled in a junior ROTC program, didn’t. “A musician has to make sense of a complicated soundscape,” Prof. Kraus says, which translates into an ability to understand language and to focus, for example, on what a teacher is saying in a noisy classroom.
Music training does more than sports, theater or dance to improve key academic skills.
Last year, the German Institute for Economic Research compared music training with sports, theater and dance in a study of 17-year-olds. The research, based on a survey of more than 3,000 teens, found that those who had taken music lessons outside school scored significantly higher in terms of cognitive skills, had better grades and were more conscientious and ambitious than their peers. The impact of music was more than twice that of the other activities—and held true regardless of the students’ socioeconomic background.
To be sure, the other activities also had benefits. Kids in sports also showed increased ambition, while those in theater and dance expressed more optimism. But when it came to core academic skills, the study’s authors found, the impact of music training was much stronger.
Music can be an inexpensive early screening tool for reading disabilities.
Brazilian music teacher Paulo Estevao Andrade noticed that his second-grade students who struggled with rhythm and pitch often went on to have reading problems. So he invented a “game” in which he played a series of chords on a guitar and asked his students to write symbols representing high and low notes. Those who performed poorly on the exercise, he found, typically developed severe reading problems down the line.
Intrigued, he joined with Nadine Gaab, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, to follow 43 students over three years, and they found that the test predicted general learning disabilities as well. Why? Mr. Andrade notes that the brain processes used in the music test—such as auditory sequencing abilities, necessary to hear syllables, words and sentences in order—are the same as those needed to learn to read. Prof. Gaab says the test, which is simple and inexpensive to administer, has great potential as a tool for early intervention.
Music literally expands your brain.
In a 2009 study in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers used an MRI to study the brains of 31 6-year-old children, before and after they took lessons on musical instrument for 15 months. They found that the music students’ brains grew larger in the areas that control fine motor skills and hearing—and that students’ abilities in both those areas also improved. The corpus callosum, which connects the left and right sides of the brain, grew as well.
Ellen Winner, a Boston College psychology professor and co-author of the study, notes that the study doesn’t show a rise in cognitive abilities. But she argues that music shouldn’t have to justify itself as an academic booster. “If we are going to look for effects outside of music, I would look at things like persistence and discipline, because this is what’s required to play an instrument,” she says.
Yet music programs continue to be viewed as expendable. A 2011 analysis in the Journal of Economic Finance calculated that a K-12 school music program in a large suburban district cost $187 per student a year, or just 1.6% of the total education budget. That seems a reasonable price to pay for fixing some of the thorniest and most expensive problems facing American education. Music programs shouldn’t have to sing for their supper.
— Ms. Lipman is co-author, with Melanie Kupchynsky, of “Strings Attached,” published last month in paperback by Hachette Books. She is a former deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and former editor in chief of Condé Nast Portfolio.
The number one factor in economic opportunity is Education. There is no opportunity out of poverty without education. According to Janet Yellen, our new Fed Chairwoman, there is a 12% unemployment rate. According to a prominent Wall Street adviser, David John Marotta, the actual unemployment rate of those not working is actually 37.2%. He defines unemployment in its truest sense as those who want to work but do not have a job.
If you are uneducated what are your opportunities? For the uneducated your opportunities are part time, minimum wage work or government subsidy programs for as long as they last. Automation and out sourcing are making US companies more profitable at the expense of US employment. Jobs are decreasing for the uneducated. Government regulations and Obamacare, which punishes large US companies for each full-time employee and offers strong incentives for small companies to stay below 50 employees, are actually decreasing job opportunities for the uneducated. The future is automation and this requires skills and education. When jobs become available the educated will be hired first. The uneducated will be left behind in poverty.
We have entered a time where the only growth sector in our economy is poverty. It is the poor who pay more for car loans. They buy low quality, high cost food in neighborhoods that have only one corner store and no competition. They cannot maintain the required minimum amounts in a bank account and are forced to resort to check cashing stores where interest rates are high. A lack of capital makes it difficult for the poor to make security deposits on apartments. Those who are able to rent or buy a home often furnish their dwellings with Rent-To-Own which charges high interest rates. The poor, especially the uneducated poor, pay more for everything they buy and most of what they buy is of poor quality. These circumstances keep the uneducated in poverty and dependent. They never experience the feeling of freedom to know and to grow.
There exists a huge gulf between salaried employees and hourly employees. Any time taken by an hourly employee to see a doctor, apply for benefits, or do the many things that contribute to their health and security is time taken away from their earnings. The uneducated employee is unlikely to advance without the skills that an education provides for them to rise out of poverty.
Perhaps the most debilitating factor for the uneducated is the lack of broadband experience in poverty households. The biggest disadvantage of this fundamental necessity is that much of education is done online, even in public schools, i.e. homework, teacher/student exchanges, course outlines, assignment notes, etc. Further, broadband access and social networks enable those who have it to exchange vital information. The power of these networks is lost to those who need it the most and without this access it is unlikely that the uneducated will rise above their dependence and poverty.
There is no valid argument or excuse for any child not to be educated in a country where it is free and available. It is the responsibility of every parent to insure the success of their children in a world that is increasingly complex, automated, and highly competitive. It is chilling to doom an innocent child to deprivation, ignorance, and dominance by others. The uneducated are tomorrow’s slaves today.
“He who opens a school door closes a prison.”
Parents make the rules and set the boundaries for their children. They set them up for success or failure.
All children are required to attend school in the USA. Our schools are the recipients of the children who these parents raise. They enter our classrooms either prepared to Launch into the Future or Dead on Arrival. I could go on about the teachers and their unions; the ways in which they block innovation and change, the ways in which they game the system for their benefit with the children left in their care losing ground internationally. But this is a rehashing of the obvious. What is important to know is that the American public educational system is now ranked 37 in the PISA (The Program for International Student Assessment). More than half a million 15-year-olds around the world took the PISA in 2012. The test, which is administered every three years and focuses largely on math, but includes minor sections in science and reading, is often used as a snapshot of the global state of education. The results, published in December, 2013, show the U.S. trailing behind educational powerhouses like Korea and Finland.
It is useless to ask, “Who is to blame?” All are to blame; Parents for their irresponsible parenting and inability to have a vision for their children who are undisciplined and chaotic; Teachers for their unique capacity to remain mediocre in times that demand innovative change and diversity of thought; Unions who force every American teacher to pay dues to an organization that enslaves their members to an ethic of unexceptional performance; and Politicians who squander the promise of the youth of this nation as they waste time and opportunities to transform and revolutionize our educational practices in America. ALL are to blame.
Not much has changed since 2000, when the U.S. scored along the OECD (Organization for Co-operation and Development) average in every subject: This year, the U.S. scores below average in math and ranks 17th among the 34 OECD countries. It scores close to the OECD average in science and reading, ranks 21st in science, and 17th in reading. The U.S. scored below the PISA math mean and ranks 26th out of the 34 OECD countries. Fifty-five percent of students in Shanghai-China were considered top performers, while only nine percent of American students were.
One in four U.S. students did not reach the PISA baseline level 2 of mathematics proficiency. At this level, “students begin to demonstrate the skills that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life,” according to the PISA report. Even the top students in the United States are behind: This year, the PISA report offered regional scores for Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida. Massachusetts, which is a high-achieving U.S. state and which averaged above the national PISA score, is still two years of formal schooling behind Shanghai.
Why is this important and why should we pay attention to this? Because, as parents, educators, and politicians we should be extremely concerned about how well our children are learning and retaining knowledge; how well they transfer their knowledge to their life experiences; and how well they implement their dreams and visions using their knowledge. It is statistical fact that a rising PISA score for a country is a good indicator that the economy of that country will grow as well.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
My friend Rob, who is a retired special education teacher, knows my passion for educating children to be skilled and knowledgeable participants in the emerging highly competitive global economy. He handed me an envelope. I read the contents. What follows is a summary of …
No Child Left Behind – The Basketball Version:
- All teams must advance to the Sweet 16, and all will win the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until they are the champions, and coaches will be held accountable.
- All kids will be expected to have the same basketball skills at the same time and in the same conditions.
- No exceptions will be made for interest in basketball, a desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities, or disabilities.
All Kids Will Play Basketball at a Proficient Level:
- Talented players will be asked to practice on their own, without instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with athletes who aren’t interested in basketball, have limited athletic ability, or whose parents don’t like basketball.
- Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in the 4th, 8th and 11th games.
- This will create a New Age of sports where every school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach the same minimal goals.
- If no child gets ahead, then no child will be left behind. They will be issued vouchers for moving closer to the successful team’s area.
- Any children who do not show immediate promise, or who show serious basketball visual-motor deficiencies in early grades will be given the “Dribbles Test of Early Basketball Behavior”, even if the child has one leg or came from a country that has never played or supported basketball.
- Even if there is plenty of evidence supplied by sports psychologists that there are hundreds of other conditions that can cause bad dribbling, the child will play successfully.
- The administration may consider not requiring them to dribble since it actually is not required in order to be successful at basketball, but it sure helps.
- A reasonable accommodation for students under a 504 plan would be to allow them extra distance when being guarded so they can pass the ball more proficiently.
- Elevator shoes should also be allowed for students of below average height and any players over 6’2″ may have to have jump restrictions to make this fair to those who are vertically challenged.
- The parents of the tall students might also be required to pay extra for the coaching of the short students since they obviously come from a genetically-advantaged background for basketball.
Is this humorous parody, yes it is. I did laugh for about a second.
More importantly, is this how government asserts their vast store of knowledge and insight into how our teachers should be educating their students? It seems the more the government interferes in the classroom the lower the standards become. Government does not understand that this isn’t about money; it’s about teacher talent and passion.
The United States is now experiencing dismal world wide rankings against 34 countries in spite of billions of dollars spent in government programs. The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.
We can safely assume that not one child was left behind, but that all were left behind!