Inequality in Education

Doyle, J. L. (2014). Cultural relevance in urban music education: a synthesis of the literature. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 32(2), 44–51. doi:10.1177/8755123314521037

During an observation I did last week, I was struck with the reality that, in comparison, I am a teacher at a privileged school. When I examined the differences between the campus I was visiting and the campus I work at, I started shifting on the direction of research I wanted to look into. Originally, what caught me off guard was the realization that the students in the classroom I was visiting had zero technology to use; nothing, unless we are going to consider a mechanical pencil technology. However, as I learned more about the school I was in, the more dismayed I became. (Truth be told I was all sorts of fired up!)

The school I was observing in has made some cuts to their staff, which is no different than any other school in Arizona, but this district made major cuts to their special areas team. The students never have art and they had a whopping two hours of music the entire year. I don’t imagine they made a year’s growth in those two hours. They did have, in alternating weeks, PE and technology class. Keep in mind, they have no technology in their classroom. There is a band program, but the students are only pulled out once a week.

In comparison, the school I work at has five Chromebooks for each grade level in addition to the laptops we have in every classroom and an iPad cart that is shared. That sounds more amazing than it is. For example, I had eight laptops in my classroom, but only three of them worked. The major difference, technology wise, is that our students are not only allowed, but encouraged to bring their electronic devices to school. In addition, we have a full special area team, which includes: art, music, college and career readiness, and two PE teachers. The students also have the option of joining band and/or choir.

The ramifications of not having music, art, or technology at a school are mind boggling. Think about the impact art has in the engineering and design of items like cell phones and tablets. I guarantee there is a lot of thought put into the visual effect of everyday items. The higher level thinking involved in each of these areas allows our students to problem solve and be creative in a way that is only possible in the arts and technology. The students I had the opportunity to visit with are going through their education without the same resources other students have.

I started researching anything that had to do with music, technology and achievement. I came across an article by Jennifer Lee Doyle entitled Cultural Relevance in Urban Music Education: A Synthesis of the Literature. Basically, the article is looking at the students of low socioeconomic status and how their social and academic outcome is affected by the arts. I have failed to mention thus far, that the school I visited is 94% free and reduced lunch, meaning the students who attend the school come from low socioeconomic status. The school I work at would be considered mid-level socioeconomic status; we have very few student on free and reduced lunch. The article says that “students who participate in the arts tend to have better academic and social outcomes than do students who do not participate in the arts.” She goes on to say that low SES students have increased civic engagement, better achievement test scores, school grades, graduation rates and college enrollment rates when compared to low SES students who are not in the arts. One point I found interesting was that she specifically pointed out that students “with a history of intensive arts experiences” score closer to the level, and sometimes exceeding the level shown by the general populations. This would definitely support my theory that a school without music or art will impact the students in a negative way.

The next section of her article she says there are indications that students of color, low SES and with low academic achievement are underrepresented in secondary music programs in the United States. From experience, I can tell you that there are many reasons for this and from what I have witnessed, is totally accurate. In high schools across Arizona students who participate in band typically pay $100 or more for supplies, uniform…etc. I have heard numbers as high as $500. This does not include the cost of any trips the group takes or their instrument. The non-existent funding for music programs in the high school means, that those costs fall to the families. Students from a low SES, struggle with this. Fundraising helps, but there are only so many scented candles one can sell. In regards to the students who struggle academically, from what I have witnessed, they are underrepresented because there is no more room in their schedule due to the remedial courses they are required to take. The same holds true for ELL students. A study that Doyle looked at said that 65.7% of music students, in secondary school are Caucasian and 90.4% of them are native English speakers. In the school the study looked at, only 50% of the students were Caucasian. Obviously, this does not match with the composition of the music program. A second study she looked at found a strong association between SES and music participation. “Only 17% of music students were from the lowest SES quartile.” It is baffling that we have areas in education today still, essentially, segregating our students.

Doyle suggests that in order to raise participation in music programs, specifically in junior high and high school, teachers need to create more culturally relevant courses.  She gives several examples of how to implement this: integrating multicultural music styles, offer nontraditional ensembles, teach courses that relate directly to local student interests and to be more present in the lower level schools. Making the classes more culturally relevant just means that one is being a good teacher. It is all about making connections and in middle school and high school, if a student does not feel connected, they will not stay in the program. However, music programs are unique in this way because of the amount of time the ensembles spend together, the community created is tighter than in a regular classroom. My theory is that students in general, have a higher rate of success in school when they are in such a community.

Overall, the article was easy to read and was thought provoking for me. It definitely has me looking at different ways to research. However, because it was a literature review and not quantitative research, I felt as though it didn’t dive very deep into each issue discussed, especially within data. Therefore, I don’t feel like it is or going to be very impactful.  If anything, I would have liked to see more information and statistics. However, she cited forty-two different references, which absolutely gives me a place to dive deeper.

Even though Doyle’s article is discussing secondary schools, there is still a connection to elementary. Elementary school prepares the students for secondary school. If the students are receiving an education that forces them to work at a high, more rigorous level and requires them to be creative, imagine how much farther they would end up in middle school and high school.  In the meantime, I will be looking at how the arts and technology impact student achievement and how that relates to students of color, low SES and English language learners.