Who Enrolls in High School Music? (Elpus & Abril, 2019)

 

Source:

Elpus, K., & Abril, C. R. (2019). Who enrolls in high school music? A national profile of U.S. students, 2009-2013. Journal of Research in Music Education, 67(3), 323-338.

What did the researchers want to know?

What proportion of U.S. high school students enroll in ensemble and non-ensemble music courses, and what are the characteristics of students who enroll in ensemble music courses?

What did the researchers do?

Elpus and Abril utilized existing data on 25,210 high school students gathered via a nationally representative longitudinal study that followed students at 940 U.S. high schools. These data included demographic characteristics (e.g., sex, SES, race/ethnicity, prior academic achievement) as well as information from students’ high school transcripts, including whether they participated in a high school ensemble or non-ensemble music class. Elpus and Abril used bivariate and multivariate statistical analyses to identify demographic characteristics of music and nonmusic students and to investigate the unique impact of each characteristic.

What did the researchers find?

Of the students who graduated in 2013, 24% had enrolled in one or more music ensembles during at least one year of high school. Choir had the largest percentage of participation (13%), followed by band (11%) and orchestra (2%). In terms of non-ensemble courses, only 3% of students had enrolled in a guitar class, 3% in a piano class, and less than 1% in a music technology course.

The table below shows cross-tabulations for the entire sample, ensemble students, and each type of ensemble:

Characteristics of Music Ensemble Students and the Full Population
(Elpus & Abril, 2019)

Statistical analysis revealed that differences between instrumental and non-instrumental were statistically significant in every characteristic except birth-assigned assigned sex. In contrast, choir students did not differ significantly from non-choir students for any characteristic except for birth-assigned sex.

In order to investigate the unique impact of each demographic characteristic, Elpus and Abril used logistic regression, which is a statistical analysis that attempts to “control for” (i.e., remove the effects of) certain variables. These results showed that the probability of enrolling in an ensemble music class increases with SES as well as with prior academic achievement (as measured by a standardized algebra test). However, the latter was not true for Black/African American students, for whom “the likelihood of ensemble enrollment decreases as academic achievement increases” (p. 331).

It is also interesting to note that the effects of SES and prior academic achievement were not significant among choir students. When looking at each type of ensemble separately, SES only predicted enrollment among band vs. non-band students, while prior academic achievement only predicted enrollment among instrumental vs. non-instrumental students. With the exception of gender, choral students were more representative of the larger student population than band/orchestra students.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Elpus and Abril’s findings confirm that ensemble music courses are the most prevalent music offerings among U.S. high schools. We need to continue to think about how we might attract more students to participate in school music through non-ensemble courses. However, band and orchestra are disproportionately likely to enroll students of higher SES and higher prior academic achievement. Therefore, Elpus and Abril state, “the problem may not be in increasing the number of students in music courses (which is commonly heard in professional rhetoric) so much as ensuring that music courses are attracting a representative and wide cross-section of the general student population” (p. 334). As music educators, we can be aware of which types of students may tend to be less likely to enroll in ensemble music classes and actively work to recruit these students. 

Additionally, it is worth contemplating possible reasons why choir enrollment tends to be more reflective of the general population. Elpus and Abril suggest several possibilities:

  • The versatility of the singing voice and wide range of cultures and styles in choral music “might be more attractive to students from varying cultural backgrounds” (p. 335)
  • Choir may be “more readily available as an avenue of ensemble music-making for those high school students who, for any of a variety of reasons, did not begin to develop proficiency on a band or orchestra instrument in their earlier schooling” (p. 335).
  • “Choirs may require less time commitment and financial demands than band, which possibly makes them more attractive to students who have familial or work commitments and those of more limited financial means” (p. 335).

Based on these speculations, the following types of questions warrant reflection:

  • How might we increase the appeal and relevance of music course offerings to students from varying cultural backgrounds?
  • How might we provide avenues of entry into high school instrumental music classes for students who haven’t previously participated?
  • What time, financial, or other constraints may deter some students from participating in ensemble music classes? 
    • Are we being reasonable with the amount of time we expect from students outside of regular school hours?
      • Might our attendance and/or grading policies unfairly penalize students with work or family commitments?
      • Do we make the effort to truly listen to and take into consideration a student’s personal situation when they have a conflict?
    • What might be all the monetary costs—both obvious and hidden—to instrumental music participation (e.g., instrument rental/purchase, uniform fees, reeds and other supplies, private lessons)?
      • How realistic are these costs for students of lower SES? 
      • How might we help find ways to ease this financial burden and ensure that every student has the opportunity to participate and be successful in instrumental music?

The Effect of Instrumental Music Participation and Socioeconomic Status on State Proficiency Test Performance (Fitzpatrick, 2006)

Source:

Fitzpatrick, K. R. (2006). The effect of instrumental music participation and socioeconomic status on Ohio fourth-, sixth-, and ninth-grade proficiency test performance. Journal of Research in Music Education, 54(1), 73-84.

What did the researcher want to know?

How do the standardized test scores of instrumental music students compare to those of noninstrumental students, and what influence does socioeconomic status (SES) have? 

What did the researcher do?

Fitzpatrick collected existing standardized test scores for 15,431 high school students in the Columbus (OH) Public School District, 915 of whom participated in band, orchestra, or jazz ensemble. She used eligibility for free or reduced lunch as an indicator of SES and separated students into the following four groups:

  • Instrumental music students receiving free/reduced lunch
  • Instrumental music students paying full price
  • Noninstrumental students receiving free/reduced lunch
  • Noninstrumental students paying full price

Fitzpatrick then used a retrospective design to compare the four groups’ existing scores on the Ohio Proficiency Test (in citizenship, math, science, and reading) from ninth, sixth, and fourth grades.

What did the researcher find?

Full-price students outscored free/reduced-lunch students in the majority of the sub-tests Fitzpatrick examined. When analyzed separately according to SES, “students who would eventually become high school instrumental music students outperformed noninstrumental students of like socioeconomic status in every subject and at every grade level” (p. 78). However, these differences in test scores existed even before students started instrumental music. The string and band programs in the Columbus Public Schools began in the fourth and fifth grades respectively, but students who would go on to participate in instrumental music in high school were already outperforming their classmates in fourth grade — before experiencing much or any instrumental music instruction.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Many persons argue that participation in school music makes students “smarter” by raising their standardized test scores. However, Fitzpatrick’s finding that differences in test scores existed before instrumental music study began suggests that music participation did not actually cause higher scores. Therefore, music educators should be cautious about using this claim to justify the importance of their programs.

Given the fact that those students who chose to participate in instrumental music in high school were already scoring higher than their noninstrumental classmates even before beginning instrumental music instruction, there could be several other possible explanations:

  1. Instrumental music classes attracted students with higher test scores to begin with. 
  2. Students with higher test scores were the ones who persisted in instrumental music until high school.

Because Fitzpatrick did not have data on how many students may have initially participated in instrumental music but chose to quit before high school, we don’t know which of these two explanations is more accurate. Still, each possible explanation leads to further questions worth considering:

  1. Why might instrumental music classes attract certain kinds of students and not others?
  2. Why might students with lower test scores choose to quit instrumental music? Might there be anything about the way we traditionally teach instrumental music or structure our classes that allows some students to experience more success than others?

***Note: Earlier this month, the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) announced that NAfME members now have FREE online access to all digital issues of the Journal of Research in Music Education. To read Fitzpatrick’s full article and others from the past 60 years, simply log in with your email address and password at https://nafme.org/nafme-research/journal-research-music-education/.