Good News/Bad News While Most Students Have Access to Music Education, Nearly Four Million Students Do Not

Bob Morrison • CommentaryNovember 2022 • November 13, 2022

Many of us in music education are aware of the research shows learning music results in educational, cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits. Even the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) recognizes music and the arts as part of a well-rounded education for all students. Yet, despite progress made in recent years to keep music and the arts in schools, and more than 90% of students have access to music education, millions of U.S. public school students still do not have access to these programs.

How do We Know?
Through the just-released National Arts Education Status Report from the Arts Education Data Project, a report I co-authored.

The Arts Education Data Project (AEDP) provides the first-ever look at the status and condition of music and arts education in U.S. public schools using student participation data reported by school districts to their state education departments. The AEDP created the National Arts Education Status Report 2019 as a comprehensive look at access to and participation in arts education in public schools in the United States. 

The report’s release coincided with NAMM Music Education Advocacy Hill Day last month, when members and arts education advocates joined the industry association in Washington, D.C., to carry a message of support for music education to Members of Congress and their legislative aides.

Something to Celebrate
First and foremost, we must recognize and celebrate that 94% of all students have access to some form of arts education in our schools, and 92% have access specifically to music. These findings destroy the long-perpetuated myth that music and arts education are disappearing from our schools, or as one arts leader referred to them, “nearly extinct”. These statements just do not stand up when viewed through the data. This is something to celebrate; music and arts education is nearly universally available to most of our students. We should embrace this fact and use this to promote our programs. This is a position of strength. That said, there are some disturbing trends for those who do not have access.

It’s a Matter of Equity in Education
The report reveals that while 92% of students in U.S. public schools have access to music education in school, 3,609,698 students do not have that same opportunity. In addition, 2,095,538 students do not have access to arts education (defined as dance, music, theater, or visual arts). 

What is most troubling is this: the new data also reveal a disproportionate number of students without access to music and arts education are concentrated in public schools in major urban communities; public schools that have the highest percentage of students eligible for free/reduced-price meals; and public schools that are either majority Black, Hispanic, or Native American. In addition, many of these students without music and arts education attend public charter schools.

Music Education by the Numbers


of all students have ACCESS to music education during the school day


of all students PARTICIPATE in music education during the school day


of all students have NO ACCESS to music education during the school day

Access and Participation:  Music education is widely available to students in elementary through high school, with participation at its highest in elementary schools, in part, because many states require participation at this level.

Schools with the lowest percentage of students eligible for free/reduced-priced meals and students enrolled in traditional public schools have the highest rate of participation in music education. 

No Access to Music Education:  There are 3,609,698 students in 8,486 schools who do not have access to music education. Public school students without access to music tend to be concentrated in schools with one or more of the following attributes: high percentage of students eligible for free/reduced-price meals; in major cities and very rural communities; where the majority of students enrolled are Hispanic, Black, Native American, or where there is no racial or ethnic majority; are public charter schools. 

In fact, charter school students are five times more likely to be denied access to music education than traditional public school students.

How Does Music Compare to Other Arts Disciplines?

Access and Participation:  Music and visual arts are the arts disciplines most available to students and therefore have the greatest participation. In fact, most schools (80%) offer two or more of the arts disciplines, often music and visual art.

What You Can Do

Share this report with your elected representatives, including members of congress, state legislators, local school board members, and school administrators and teachers. Work together to increase access and participation so every child can learn and grow with the arts.  

Encourage your state to participate in the Arts Data Project to assess how well your state is doing in meeting the music and arts learning needs of students. Then, use the data from your own state’s dashboard to help advance music and arts education in your own school and community.

  • Work with school principals and district leaders to:
    Tap available federal Title I funds that can be used to support student instruction in the arts and meet the learning needs of our nation’s most vulnerable children
  • Use federal Title IV Part A funds – available to every U.S. school district – to expand music and arts learning opportunities.
  • Support music and arts educators in your school and community. Volunteer as needed and support the remarkable work of music and arts educators every day who are dedicated to well-rounded learning for every child.  

Research shows learning music results in educational, cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits. For example, pioneering research conducted by neurobiologist Nina Kraus1 offers insight into how musical experience affects brain function across the lifespan. Findings to-date indicate that tapping into the brain’s potential for music learning supports overall learning and is most critical for disadvantaged and under-served students.

Collective Impact Work Guided by Leadership Organizations
The Arts Education Data Project is a joint project between State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education (SEADAE) – whose members are on staff at each of the state departments of education in the United States – and its longtime partner,

Quadrant Research, the pioneer of state-level arts education data reporting. The AEDP implements the architecture necessary to host data on arts education access and participation that comes directly from
the states, enabling reporting of these powerful findings. More than 120 state agencies, arts councils, advocacy organizations, funders, and professional arts education associations are involved in this collective impact work.  

National funding for the Arts Education Data Project has been provided by: CMA Foundation, The Music Man Foundation, NAMM Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Ohio Arts Council. Individual state funding has been provided by various state agencies and state-based philanthropic organizations.

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