There’s a very interesting study by Ken Elpus in the most recent Journal of Research in Music Education. I’ll spare you the gritty statistical details here, and just summarize. Elpus set out to examine the correlation, if any, between music students and SAT scores. Based on his results, there is reason to suspect that the impact of music study on test scores is, at best, insignificant. In fact, he states in the discussion section, “The analyses demonstrate that music students in the U.S. high school class of 2004 did not outperform non-music students on college entrance exams or on standardized math tests.”
So what does this mean for music educators? Well, it’s got some big implications for music education advocacy. One of the most popular arguments that gets tossed around by music supporters (and this is very simplified) is “Music makes you better at [insert other subject here]!” Elpus’ research suggests that this might not be the case, and that the people clinging to that old utilitarian stance might need to re-examine their arguments.
I’m all for adopting a new argument. I guarantee that the vast majority of music teachers didn’t pick up their instruments for the first time with the intent of improving their math scores. Students aren’t coming to our classes to get a better score on the SAT. So, let’s think about why students are attracted to music. Speak to that when advocating. Schools should offer music not based on how it impacts other subjects, but because students value it.