The Effects of Music Education on the Achievement Gap in Florida High Schools

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1 The Effects of Music Education on the Achievement Gap in Florida High Schools ~ Ryan Salazar Abstract This quantitative study investigated correlations between music education and racial achievement gaps. The data were derived from 11,925 Pinellas County (Florida) high school students, and detailed demographic information, academic achievement, attendance records, and course enrollment. Independent t-tests identified statistically significant differences in achievement between racial groups. The results indicated that Black and Hispanic students with music enrollment had higher achievement than similar students without music enrollment. This resulted in a smaller achievement gap. However, Black and Hispanic students had relatively low enrollment in music, which limits the potential impact of music education on the achievement gap. These results are an abbreviated version of a larger thesis, which included a broad analysis of the racial achievement gap as well as a more diverse investigation of the variables that might impact music enrollment and the achievement gap. Keywords: academic disparity, racial equality, curriculum Introduction The racial achievement gap is an academic and social concern in U.S. schools. One of the earliest research projects to document the achievement gap was the report titled Equality of Educational Opportunity (Coleman, 1966). This study revealed a large gap in achievement between Black and White students in the United States. The racial achievement gap has also been well-supported by texts such as The Black-White Test Score Gap (Jencks & Phillips, 1998), and other national studies by agencies such as the National Center for Education Statistics. Such studies have revealed that the racial achievement gap declined throughout the 1970 s and 1980 s, but increased during the 1990 s (Rampey, Dion & Donahue, 2009). As stated by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Closing the achievement gap and closing the 6

2 opportunity gap is the civil rights issue of our generation. Almost one million students leave our schools for the streets each year. That is economically unsustainable and morally unacceptable (President s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, 2011, p. 24). Therefore, the achievement gap remains a prominent concern in education. In recent years, educational leaders have created policies to better serve the lowest performing students. For example, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 increased accountability for student performance and raised standards for teachers. However, increased testing of core competencies has narrowed the curriculum, while threatening the role of the arts in the curriculum (McMurrer, 2007). Therefore, a plethora of non-profit organizations and other arts advocates have begun to take a stand. The goal of many advocacy initiatives has been to justify the importance of the arts by citing correlations between arts education and increases in academic achievement (President s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, 2011). Such advocacy initiatives have been well represented in Florida. In 2009, the Florida Department of Education released a report that suggested enrollment in arts classes is correlated with higher achievement and reduced dropout rates. Furthermore, these results suggested positive gains for students of low socioeconomic status and students across all ethnic groups (Smith, 2009, p. 2). Across the literature there is an abundance of research on the achievement gap in U.S. schools, and there is an abundance of research on how music education impacts achievement. However, the literature lacks reports that combine the study of the achievement gap with the study of music education. Therefore, this study provides more clarity regarding the potential effects of music enrollment on racial achievement gaps. 7

3 Methodology This study investigated the following research questions: 1. Which achievement gaps exist between racial categories in Pinellas County Schools? 2. Do music students score higher than non-music students on achievement tests? 3. Do correlations between music education and academic achievement affect achievement gaps? These three questions were used to investigate the alternative hypothesis that a relationship potentially exists between music enrollment and a reduced achievement gap. In other words, the data were used to analyze whether music enrollment is correlated equality in academic achievement. Therefore, the achievement of students in all racial categories was analyzed using comparative analysis and independent t-tests. The statistically significant differences provide insight regarding the correlation between music enrollment and academic achievement. Records of absences and discipline infractions were relevant to this analysis, as they provided insight into students behavior. By analyzing achievement, demographics, and student behavior in regard to music enrollment, the results suggest whether music education is correlated with a reduced achievement gap. The data for this study were attained from Pinellas County Schools, Florida. After receiving approval from the University of South Florida Institutional Review Board and the Pinellas County Schools Department of Research and Accountability, a research specialist from Pinellas County Schools compiled the data. A total of nine high schools were chosen for this study, consisting of 11,925 students. These schools represent a diverse selection of students, musical programs, academic courses, and student achievement. This diversity helped provide a representative sample of the students in Pinellas County Schools. 8

4 FCAT reading and math scores are two dependent variables that measure academic achievement. The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) is an annual standardized assessment administered to students in Florida public schools. Test results are reported on a scale score ( ). Absences and discipline infractions are the two dependent variables that provide insight into student behavior. Each student s absences and discipline infractions during the 2009 school year were included in the data. Racial categories and music enrollment are the independent variables. The racial groups identified by Pinellas County Schools were White, Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Multiracial, American Indian/Alaskan Native. Music enrollment was determined according to the course records provided for each student. Students that enrolled in any music course during high school were labeled as music students. Results Descriptive Analysis: Frequencies The frequency of students in each racial category was calculated. The analysis indicated the following results: White 62.2% (N= 7,413), Black 22.4% (N= 2,672), Hispanic 7% (N= 837), Multiracial 4.1% (N= 484), Asian 4.1% (N= 483), American Indian/Alaskan Native 0.3% (N= 36). Comparison of Means The averages for achievement, absences, and discipline infractions were compared across the racial categories. The results are displayed in Table 1. 9

5 Table 1 Means of Dependent Variables by Racial Category Reading Math Discipline Absences Black Black Native Hispanic Multiracial 6.42 Black Multiracial Hispanic 5.58 Hispanic Native White 4.40 Multiracial White Native 3.25 White Asian Asian 1.73 Asian 9.98 The average reading score for the entire sample was and the average math score was (Other descriptive statistics for reading and math achievement can be found in Table 2). According to these statistics, Black and Hispanic students scored below average on math and reading tests. Furthermore, the students with the lowest achievement had a greater amount of absences and discipline infractions. For example, Black students had the most discipline infractions and the second most absences. In comparison, students with the highest achievement (Asian and White) had fewer absences and fewer discipline infractions. Table 2 Descriptive Statistics for Reading and Math Achievement Minimum Maximum Mean Median Mode Standard Deviation Reading Math

6 Bivariate Correlations A bivariate correlation was used to analyze the associations between racial categories and the dependent variables. Table 3 Correlations Between Race and Dependent Variables Reading Math Absences Discipline White.283 **.295 ** ** ** Black ** **.055 **.295 ** Hispanic ** ** * Asian.053 **.101 ** ** ** Multiracial.018 * Native Note. * p <.05; ** p <.01. White and Asian students had positive correlations with academic achievement, while Black and Hispanic students had negative correlations with academic achievement. Also, White and Asian students had negative correlations with absences and discipline, while Black students had positive correlations with absences and discipline. These results support the averages in Table 1, suggesting that Black and Hispanic students are more likely to have lower achievement and higher rates of absences and discipline. Achievement Gap An independent t-test was used to identify statistically significant differences in achievement between racial groups. The achievement of Black, Hispanic, and Multiracial students was compared to White students. The results indicated statistically significant 11

7 differences in reading scores, which are reported as the following achievement gaps: Black students (43.44 points; p <.001), Hispanic students (23.56 points; p <.001), and Multiracial students (6.96 points; p =.002). There were also achievement gaps in math for Black students (41.91 points; p <.001), Hispanic students (19.99 points; p <.001), and Multiracial students (10.1 points; p <.001). Music Education An independent t-test was completed among the sample of Black, Hispanic, and Multiracial students, in order to compare the differences in achievement between music students and non-music students. Black students in music scored points higher in reading and 9.67 points higher in math compared to Black students not in music (p <.001). Hispanic students in music scored points higher in reading and points higher in math compared to Hispanic students not in music (p <.001). Therefore, the data suggest that music education could have a positive effect on the achievement of Black and Hispanic students. The t-test comparing Multiracial students achievement according to music enrollment did not indicate significant differences. In order to explore the impact of music education on the achievement gap, four t-tests were completed. The first two t-tests compared the achievement of Black and Hispanic students not in music to the achievement of White students. The second two t-tests compared the achievement of Black and Hispanic students in music to the achievement of White students. The results indicated that Black students not in music scored points lower than White students (p <.001). In comparison, Black students in music scored points lower than White students (p <.001). These two achievement gaps were subtracted from each other, indicating that the reading achievement gap was points smaller for Black students in music. The math 12

8 achievement gap was 9.67 points smaller for Black students in music. Similar t-tests were completed for Hispanic students and are displayed in Table 4. Table 4 Difference in Achievement Gap According to Music Enrollment Reading Achievement Gap Math Achievement Gap White White Black No Music ** Black No Music ** Black In Music ** Black In Music ** Difference Difference 9.67 Reading Achievement Gap Math Achievement Gap White White Hispanic No ** Hispanic No ** Music Music Hispanic In * Hispanic In * Music Music Difference Difference Note. * p <.05, ** p <

9 The analysis also suggests that the duration of music enrollment was associated with higher achievement. For example, the average Black and Hispanic student with one year of music enrollment scored 14.4 points higher on reading tests when compared to Black and Hispanic students without music enrollment. However, the average Black and Hispanic student with two years of music enrollment scored points higher in reading than Black and Hispanic students without music enrollment. Similar differences were found in math achievement and are displayed in Table 5. Table 5 Difference in Achievement According to Duration of Music Enrollment Reading Difference Math Difference No Music One Year ** ** Two Years ** ** Three Years * Note. *p <.05; ** p <.01 Summary of Statistics This analysis supports the conclusion that racial achievement gaps negatively impact Black and Hispanic students. However, the results of the study have deeper implications, in that the achievement gap was smaller for Black and Hispanic students in music courses. This suggests that music education might be correlated with greater equality between racial groups. However, this analysis cannot prove that music education is the cause of reduced achievement gaps. Therefore, the practical relevance of these correlations must be considered in the context of curriculum and instruction. 14

10 Theoretical Implications Since the data suggested positive gains for Black and Hispanic students in music classes, there might be correlations between music education and the qualities necessary for academic success. However, any potential impact of music education appears to be unequally distributed among racial categories. Table 6 indicates that a smaller percentage of Black and Hispanic students were enrolled in music courses compared to White and Asian students. The disparity in music enrollment is supported by the bivariate correlations in the column on the right. Table 6 Proportion of Music Enrollment According to Race Category Percentage of Correlation Between Students in Music Music and Race Asian 24.4%.016** White 23.1%.061** Hispanic 18.9% -.015** Black 15.9% -.069** Note. ** p <.01. The inequality in music enrollment is interesting because it mirrors academic disparity. The categories of students with lower enrollment in music courses also had lower achievement. While the data cannot determine whether a lack of music education perpetuates low achievement, these correlations do provide insight into potential inequalities in curriculum and instruction. For example, the smaller proportion of minority students in music courses could indicate that Black and Hispanic students are restricted from music education in order to take other courses. This hypothesis is supported by research that suggests schools with high rates of dropouts sometimes have little access to arts courses (Israel, 2009, p.2). While it might be 15

11 intuitive for policy makers to enhance remedial instruction for students who struggle academically, this simultaneously limits creative experiences that can benefit students of minority status. Another hypothesis is that low-achieving students are not interested in taking music courses. In many cases, music education might not be socially compatible with the music that interests students. Most of the music students in this study took formal music classes, dominated by performing Western art music within large ensembles (band, choir, and orchestra). While these traditional methods of music education provide an important foundation for creating music, they might have little personal or cultural relevance with the type of music that students enjoy. Therefore, Black and Hispanic students in high school might not be interested in taking music courses. Furthermore, the music most often taught in schools could perpetuate a cultural ideology that is incongruent with the popular musical experiences of most students. If music education can improve achievement as a source of motivation, creativity, and social capital, it will only have a limited impact on the achievement gap as long as it remains distant from students experiences. Conclusion The most practical conclusion gathered from this study is that music education can only have a limited impact on the racial achievement gap, because less than one out of every four students enrolled in a music course during high school. Furthermore, the proportion of Black and Hispanic students enrolled in music courses was smaller than the proportion of White and Asian students enrolled in music courses. Therefore, any correlations between music education and academic achievement are unlikely to impact the achievement gap unless the lowest performing students have greater enrollment in music courses. 16

12 The data suggest that there is a potential correlation between music education and a reduced achievement gap. However, it is challenging to understand the cause of such correlations, because a variety of variables can impact achievement (Winner & Hetland, 2000). Despite the challenge to identify causality, these results can provide insight for policy makers and educators. Given the positive correlations between music enrollment and academic achievement among minority students, it could be beneficial for educational leaders to consider the benefits of a comprehensive approach toward curriculum. Furthermore, music educators must be willing to consider practices that are more sociologically compatible with the popular music culture among minority racial groups. Such an approach could create a musical experience that is more appealing to the diverse student population. In this manner, music education can become a positive source of capital for students who otherwise have little motivation to invest in their education. Through an innovative approach toward curriculum design, music education can become a part of a culturally responsive pedagogy that can promote equality and help reduce the achievement gap. 17

13 References Coleman, J. S., Campbell, E. Q., Hobson, C. J., McPartland, F., Mood, A. M., Weinfeld, F. D., et al. (1966). Equality of educational opportunity. Office of Education, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. Israel, D. (2009). Staying in school: Arts education and New York City high school graduation rates. New York City: The Center for Arts Education. Retrieved from Jencks, C. & Phillips, M. (1998). The black-white test score gap. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press. McMurrer, J. (2007). Choices, changes, and challenges: Curriculum and instruction in the NCLB era. Washington, D.C.: Center on Education Policy. National Center for Education Statistics. (2008). Long-term trend: Black-white gap. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from: President s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (2011). Reinvesting in arts education: Winning America s future through creative schools. Washington, D.C.: President s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Retrieved from: Rampey, B.D., Dion, G.S., and Donahue, P.L. (2009). NAEP 2008 trends in academic progress (NCES ). Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from: Smith, E.J. (2009). Memorandum: Music program resource for secondary principals. Tallahassee, FL.: Florida Department of Education. Retrieved from: Winner, E., & Hetland, L. (2000, Autumn-Winter). The arts in education: Evaluating the evidence for a causal link. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 34(3-4),

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