Educational policy in the United States has long danced around questions of whether some subjects should be taught on a compulsory basis. States generally get to decide what their educational standards will be, and over time, various groups have risen up to push for their preferred subjects to be taught in schools. Namely, groups have been pushing of late for more education in the area of science, technology, engineering, and math, or the so-called “STEM” disciplines. Others have noted that in a world where communication has never been more important than it is today, English and written communication skills must make a comeback. There are groups too that push for the arts. With this in mind, questions exist about music education in the US. Is this something that should be compulsory for all students? Is it something that should be offered as an elective, allowing students to opt in or opt out according to their level of skill or their level of interest? Some have noted that education should be all about preparing students to go out into the employment world, such that the only subjects that should be compulsory are things that lead to jobs (Gandara & Randall 112). Others have noted that it is critical to ensure that students come out of school well-rounded. If they are only learning how to do math and science, these people hold, then something will be lost in a society that very much depends on the arts in order to survive. These various perspectives have been debated over and over in the political realm and in other settings. Likewise, the debate has shifted over the course of time. As of today, there are some who believe that more focus should be put on music education, while there are others who believe this is a misuse of the educational system, and that only the hard disciplines should be an area of focus.
In the political world, there are some individuals who are very much for more music education, while there are others who oppose this push based upon their own principles. The Every Child Achieves Act was overwhelmingly supported by Democrats, and for that reason, it is clear that Democrats are supporters of adding more of a focus on music to schools today (Humphreys 139). The Every Child Achieves Act was a broad, bipartisan effort that did more than just reaffirm the importance of music education, of course. It also pushed back against standardized testing and putting education policy in a small box. However, one of its chief focus areas was adding music education to the body of core subjects taught in schools (Hodge 9). This was critical because it means that the subject will be taught more forcefully rather than having it be a fringe effort. On the other hand, there were 12 Republicans who actually opposed this bill, even though it passed the Senate (Walker). Those Republicans opposed the bill on several grounds. Some opposed it on the ground that they did not want the federal government to get involved in educational policy (Hodge 17). Others have stated their belief that music education is not something that should be a focus, with schools needing instead to spend their time, money, and energy on things like science and math (Shoffner 269).

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In addition, there are some groups of school administrators and educational activists who have been for this particular policy shift in America (Rusiken 78). The National Association for Music Education, which features within its membership many individuals who work in schools and in school leadership, was a strong supporter of not only the most recent legislation to pass congress, but also other iterations of this particular policy that have gone in front of the legislature before. These are people who believe that music education should be compulsory in schools because it helps to provide students with new and effective ways of learning, because it helps to bring on creativity, and because it helps to ensure that students are able to contribute in many ways to society (Hietanen 257). While these individuals have long seen the value in many different subjects taught within schools, they have viewed music education as a primary vehicle through which students could explore some of their abstract skills (Collins 4). Likewise, this is seen as important in the battle to get schools away from “teaching to the test,” so to speak, because the nature of music education is that it veers away from the standardized testing methodology. Some school administrators have opposed this particular type of legislation on the basis of school funding. Especially in schools that have few resources, music education can be seen as a luxury that they cannot afford (Glatthorn et al. 59). Those administrators would rather spend money on existing teacher salaries, computers, and other things needed to ensure their schools are safe and effective. This is a difficult but important distinction to draw. Many of these administrators do not dispute that music education is important and necessary. Rather, they just operate under the belief that with their budgets being so tight, they do not have the extra room that they need in order to put in music programs that can be expensive. These administrators have been buttressed by various human rights groups that look after the rights of poor and immigrant students. These groups have seen that in some schools, the resources are already so strained that trying to stretch them to include music education programs is likely to just lead to these poor students being at an even more acute disadvantage. These groups have come together to oppose this policy for these peculiar reasons.

In the UK, support for compulsory music education seems to be falling, even though the numbers of schools and students taking it seriously are still many. The trend lines there have been concerning to some people who support compulsory education in these spaces. In the UK, for instance, at the secondary school level, music education is compulsory now at only around 84% of schools. The fact that this number represents a declining trend is a good sign of how well accepted music education has been in society to this point (Hardcastle et al. 381). It is apparent that in the UK, schools and individual districts are given the power and capacity to largely do what they want to do. This is why one can see such a difference, with some schools choosing to make this a must-take course and other schools choosing to go another direction. As with many schools and countries, the UK is now focusing more on STEM-related courses, and music education has been a casualty in some instances because of that (Aróstegui 96). Still, it is apparent that music education is taken much more seriously there in comparison to the US.

Ultimately music education policy in the United States appears to be shifting in a direction where more people support it. While STEM and other hard disciplines have gotten much of the buzz of late, music education advocates have been quite successful in pushing for more of those courses. This is why recent legislation received backing of every single Senate Democrat. Even though some Republicans and some administrators are against it for their own reasons, it appears as if those pushing for compulsory music education are gaining more and more ground with the adoption of their ideas to this point. This figures to continue moving forward.

    References
  • Aróstegui, José Luis. “Exploring the global decline of music education.” Arts Education Policy Review 117.2 (2016): 96-103.
  • Brown, Catherine, et al. “Implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act: Toward a Coherent, Aligned Assessment System.” Center for American Progress (2016).
  • Collins, Anita. “Music education and the brain: What does it take to make a change?.” Update: Applications of Research in Music Education 32.2 (2014): 4-10.
  • Gandara, Fernanda, and Jennifer Randall. “Investigating the relationship between school-level accountability practices and science achievement.” education policy analysis archives 23 (2015): 112.
  • Glatthorn, Allan A., Jerry M. Jailall, and Julie K. Jailall. The principal as curriculum leader: Shaping what is taught and tested. Corwin Press, 2016.
  • Hardcastle, Elinor, Stephanie Pitts, and José Luis Aróstegui. “A cross-cultural comparison of music education experiences and ambitions in two Spanish and English primary schools.” International Journal of Music Education 35.3 (2017): 381-390.
  • Hietanen, Lenita, et al. “Student teachers’ guided autonomous learning: Challenges and possibilities in music education.” Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences 217 (2016): 257-267.
  • Hodge, Meriem, and Jennie Welch. “An implementation perspective: Relevant lessons from no child left behind (NCLB) for the implementation of every student succeeds act (ESSA).” Journal of Ethical Educational Leadership 3.9 (2016): 1-17.
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  • Rusinek, Gabriel, and José Luis Aróstegui. “Educational policy reforms and the politics of music teacher education.” The Oxford handbook of social justice in music education (2015): 78-90.
  • Sharp, Laurie A. “ESEA Reauthorization: An Overview of the Every Student Succeeds Act.” Texas Journal of Literacy Education 4.1 (2016): 9-13.
  • Shoffner, Madison. “Education reform from the two-sided congressional coin.” JL & Educ. 45 (2016): 269.
  • Walker, Tim. “US Senate passes Every Child Achieves Act, end of NCLB era draws closer.” Education Policy, NEA Today. Retrieved from http://neatoday. org/2015/07/16/us-senate-passes-every-child-achieves-act-end-of-nclb-era-draws-closer(2015).
  • Weale, Sally. “Music disappearing from curriculum, schools survey shows.” The Guardian. 2018. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/oct/10/music-disappearing-school-curriculum-england-survey-gcse-a-level