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Is Music Education the Key to Closing the Achievement Gap?

September 11, 2014
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Is Music Education the Key to Closing the Achievement Gap?
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Yet another (very important) reason why it's important to keep the arts in schools.

A number of low-income public schools across the country have been putting arts educations on the chopping block due to spending cuts, but this new study proves why schools should be encouraging students to bust out those records.

In a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers found that music lessons help trigger the brain development of at-risk youngsters, possibly enough to bridge the academic gap between low-income and affluent students, the Huffington Post reports.

The study, which came from the minds at Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, was conducted at Camp Harmony, an after-school program for underprivileged youth in Los Angeles, over two summers.

After receiving a music lesson, the students (ages 6 to 9) were hooked up to a neural probe to test how they could “distinguished similar speech sounds.” The researchers found that these students could interpret speech sounds more quickly and precisely, which could ultimately lead to improved language and reading skills. It takes two years of music lessons for this improvement to occur — one year isn’t enough, the study says.

MORE: A Well-Rounded Education: This City is Spending $23 Million to Revive the Arts

Low-income students really do have a larger mountain to climb when it comes to language skills. Today.com pointed out a study in which children with parents on welfare heard 30 million fewer words by the time they were 3, compared to their wealthier counterparts with professional parents. This means that a poor child’s brain will have work harder in school to pick up new words compared to a rich child whose brain has already been exposed to millions more words at home. Music, it appears, can help these disadvantaged children get up to speed.

“This research demonstrates that community music programs can literally ‘remodel’ children’s brains in a way that improves sound processing, which could lead to better learning and language skills,” Dr. Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, says in a press release.

The study is the first to specifically focus on the effects of an after-school music program for at-risk students. It also adds to the growing list of research that shows how the arts encourage students to stay and succeed in school.

“These findings are a testament that it’s a mistake to think of music education as a quick fix, but that if it’s an ongoing part of children’s education, making music can have a profound and lifelong impact on listening and learning,” Kraus concludes.

That’s literally music to our ears.

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