RTRL.48: Predictors of Music Class Enrollment in Urban Middle/High Schools (Kinney, 2019)


Kinney, D. W. (2019). Selected nonmusic predictors of urban students’ decisions to enroll and persist in middle school and high school music ensemble electives. Journal of Research in Music Education, 67(1), 23-44.

What did the researcher want to know?

Who enrolls in urban middle school and high school music classes?

What did the researcher do?

Kinney obtained student demographic information from one large midwestern metropolis area. This district was comprised of mostly minority students (62% Black, 26% Caucasian, 9% Hispanic, 3% Asian, <1% Native American), and 78.5% of students were enrolled in free/reduced lunch programs. Since elective choices began in 6th grade in this district and state standardized tests were administered in 6th, 8th, and 10th grades, Kinney collected data for students in those three grades.

Kinney assembled a database that indicated whether each student in 6th, 8th, and 10th grade was enrolled in band, strings, or choir. This database also included the following information for each student:

  • reading achievement test score
  • math achievement test score
  • free/reduced lunch status (as an indicator of SES)
  • number of parents/guardians in the home
  • district mobility (whether the student had moved into the district in the past year),
  • school mobility (whether the student had transferred schools within the district in the past year)
  • ethnicity
  • sex

Kinney used these factors as variables in conducting a multinomial logistic regression to build a predictive model for initial 6th grade enrollment and 8th/10th grade enrollment/retention in band, orchestra, and choir.

What did the researcher find?

Statistical analyses revealed the following student characteristics to be significant predictors of whether a student was more or less likely to enroll in elective music classes at each grade level:

What does this mean for my classroom?

Results suggest that students with higher math achievement are more likely to participate in instrumental music in urban schools. However, the fact that this was consistent across the span of grade levels suggests “that higher achieving students are attracted to instrumental programs from the outset and that systematic differences between this population and the general school population remain relatively stable over time” (p. 36). This provides evidence against the common argument that participation in music raises standardized tests scores and instead implies the difference lies in who chooses to participate in instrumental music in the first place.

Band teachers should be aware that student SES can predict whether a student participates in band. Teachers should be conscious of the fact that SES can be a limiting factor for student enrollment and find ways to make access to band class accessible to students who might struggle to afford an instrument or other supplies.

High school band programs typically involve various before- and after-school requirements (e.g., marching band, pep band), which may be why students from two-parent/guardian homes were more likely to participate in band in high school. It is possible that single-parent/guardian homes encounter more challenges in navigating these extra activities. For example, a single parent who works the night shift may not be able to transport their child to or from before- or after-school activities. High school band teachers should be aware of these challenges and work to mitigate them so that all students have equal opportunity to participate.

Finally, teachers should be aware of the ways in which enrollment trends may reflect racial and gendered “norms” of who participates in band, orchestra, or choir. Only band reflected a more balanced enrollment of males and females, while females were two to three times as likely as males to enroll in orchestra or choir. While race/ethnicity trends varied across grade levels and ensemble types, the data implies that white students tend to more consistently enroll in ensemble classes. Teachers can be mindful of these trends in their recruiting efforts, and all music educators can work to defy racial/ethnic and gender stereotypes in the repertoire they choose, the materials they use, and the musicians who are represented in their classrooms. “Through deliberate, conscientious efforts to reach students often underserved by music ensemble offerings, teachers will no doubt create a more democratic, equitable, and viable elective choice for all” (p. 41).