KU research establishes link between music education, academic achievement

LAWRENCE University of Kansas researchers have confirmed what decades of anecdotal evidence and national research suggested: Increased music participation has important direct and indirect effects on positive outcomes in student achievement and engagement.

For a baseline study commissioned by Nashville’s Music Makes Us initiative, KU researchers from the School of Music and the Center for Public Partnerships & Research (CPPR) examined four years of districtwide data on the 2012 graduating class, as well as student surveys and focus groups, to determine what influence music can have on students. Principal investigators were the School of Music’s Christopher Johnson and CPPR’s Becky Eason.

"The results of this study strongly support the notion that education advocates should also be advocates for music education,” said Johnson, a professor of music education & therapy and director of the Music Research Institute at KU. “It has been stated many times that the reason that kids in music do better in school is because the smart kids participate in music. This is the first study that has ever taken those fourth-grade test scores and used them to even the playing field, allowing us to see what happened as the students progressed from fifth grade to 12th grade. The results noted in this study were calculated after the initial differences in the fourth-grade test scores were removed from the equation.”

Analysis showed that students engaged in music programs outperformed their peers on every indicator: grade-point average, graduation rate, ACT scores, attendance and discipline referrals. Overall, the study demonstrated that the more a student participates in music, the more positive these benefits become.

Johnson analyzed quantitative data about high-school music participation, school engagement and academic achievement for 6,006 students in the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools class of 2012 cohort. Eason conducted qualitative surveys and focus groups with current fifth- through 12th-grade students. Analyzed together, the data establish a benchmark — a picture of students who have been enrolled in middle- and high-school music and the potential effect of music study on student engagement and student academic achievement.

“One of the key findings that shouldn’t get lost is how important music is for creating a sense of belonging and purpose for the students who participate,” said Eason, associate director of CPPR. “They identify themselves as musicians, as being in the band or chorus, and they’re motivated to come to school so that they can participate in music. The students also believe that music participation teaches them skills like discipline and concentration that they can use to their benefit throughout the school days.”

Eason said the project was also a great example of how units across the university can work together; the study marks the fourth research collaboration between CPPR and the Music Research Institute.

“Professor Johnson brings credentials in music education and the necessary quantitative skills to the research,” Eason said. “I have a background in qualitative research and the staff to administer the project. Between the two of us, we were able to accomplish a pretty remarkable study.”

Metro Nashville leaders are using the study’s findings and its recommendations to inform decisions about the future of the Music Makes Us initiative. Eason and Johnson hope to replicate and extend this project in other communities and school districts.

“This benchmark study confirms what every music teacher knows,” said Laurie Schell, director of Music Makes Us. “Music engages students in school and can motivate them toward greater achievement. Our job now is to take this knowledge and let it guide us in expanding a high-quality music program that reaches all students.”

More about Music Makes Us

Launched in fall 2012, Music Makes Us is a K-12 initiative focusing on music literacy and student participation. A joint effort of Metro Nashville Public Schools, Mayor Karl Dean, music industry leaders and community advocates, Music Makes Us is intended to strengthen traditional school music while adding a contemporary curriculum that embraces new technologies and reflects a diverse musical landscape. The initiative has augmented traditional school music with contemporary, culturally relevant music offerings (bluegrass, hip-hop, rock) as well as real-life music industry experiences (record-label production, audio-engineering and audio-technology programs).

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools is the nation’s 42nd-largest district with more than 83,000 students. “Music and other co-curricular activities are going to play a key role in our journey to becoming the highest-performing urban school district in the country,” said Director of Schools Jesse B. Register. “We will offer every student in Metro Schools the opportunity to learn a music instrument or otherwise participate in music programs. This new research reinforces our resolve. Music will help students grow, achieve and be empowered in education.”

Wed, 01/15/2014


Bill Woodard

Media Contacts

Bill Woodard

Achievement & Assessment Institute