Music Education On the Upswing: Has the Tide Turned? (And If So, Why?)

Have we reached a tipping point in terms of the public and philanthropic appreciation of music education for kids?

For an answer, let's first contextualize the question. For generations, everyone seemed intuitively to know that music education was a good thing. Better yet, we didn't need scientific studies to back it up. However, as public education gravitated toward a more quantitative model of learning and standardized testing became increasingly prevalent, music education seemed expendable, particularly during the dark ages of the Great Recession.

But the tide has turned in recent years thanks, in part, to the very same scientific methods that pushed music education aside a decade ago. Over the past couple of years, researchers have pointed to new findings attesting to the power of music education in shaping the young mind. As this article in The Atlantic notes, music education can, in fact, close the academic gap between well-off and underprivileged kids.

This paradigm shift has profound implications for educators, administrators, and—for our purposes here—music nonprofits. By taking a more quantitative, research-driven approach toward articulating the value of music education, nonprofits can more effectively woo cash-conscious funders who, yes, appreciate quantitative, research-driven approaches towards education.

And if you're a music education nonprofit looking for a successful model, look no further than the New Jersey-based Little Kids Rock. Since 2002, the nonprofit has served over 325,000 children by partnering with public school districts in some of the nation’s most economically disadvantaged communities with the goal of ensuring that all students (K-12) have access to music education and its many benefits.

We actually looked at Little Kids Rock a few months ago in the context of the nonprofit's partnership with the Berklee College of Music to train public school teachers in pop/rock-based music education. In doing so, we posited that this program, dubbed "Amp Up NYC," may "kickstart a resurgence in public school music education." News from 3,000 miles away suggest we may have been on to something.

Country music stars Rascal Flatts presented a Country Music Association (CMA) Foundation grant of $150,000 to Little Kids Rock during a recent trip to Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles.

Little Kids Rock's work has "gone country," having attracted the deep pockets of the CMA Foundation. As its website notes, it is committed to providing music education to underprivileged kids. And the beauty of it all, particularly for other music education nonprofits, is that while more research points to music education's efforts in closing the achievement gap, Little Kids Rock doesn't have a monopoly on the craft music education.

As founder and CEO David Wish notes, "Just as all kids are natural language speakers, they are also natural music makers. Not just some kids; all kids."