Don't Fall Flat: Put the A in STEM

Some people argue that listening to music while they're driving, working, exercising or carrying out any regular task helps them focus. By simply hearing music, they experience improvements in their mood or a boost in their productivity. Even in the smallest doses, the impact of music is vast.

For students whose minds are expanding and developing, the potency of music is multiplied. However, far too many schools and educators across the United States are still treating music as background noise. Many don't realize how it can change the tune of our lives.

Whether a child is bound for Broadway or more likely to sing in the shower, it is undeniable that growing up in a musically rich environment positively impacts learning. That's because practicing an instrument, understanding rhythm and notes or performing in an orchestra or band is more than simply making music - it's helping facilitate learning in other subjects and enhancing the skills all students use and need on a day-to-day basis.

Reams of statistics prove this theory. For instance, one 2009 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience revealed students who took music lessons for just 15 months experienced brain growth in areas that control hearing and fine motor skills. Language skills, like verbal memory, literacy and verbal intelligence have also been shown to strongly benefit from musical training. Researchers have even found a correlation between music and spatial intelligence, meaning music can aid children in visualizing various elements that should go together. This skill comes into play when solving problems with multiple steps, like one would encounter in cracking a computer code, conducting a chemical equation or visualizing the final product in architecture, engineering or design.

Music also has a positively profound impact on standardized testing scores, a fact that all K-12 schools, educational policymakers and administrators need to take into account. Several studies, including one published in 2007 by the University of Kansas, reveal elementary schools with superior music education programs achieved higher scores compared to schools with low-quality programs, regardless of socioeconomic disparities among the schools or districts.

We've seen this first-hand at Special Music School (PS 859) at Kaufman Music Center. Here, at the only New York K-12 public school with music as a core curriculum subject, music education and private instrumental lessons are integrated into the regular school day, and the effect on learning is significant. Just this year, SMS's fourth and seventh graders earned the highest proficiency rates out of 32 schools in their district on state math exams and ranked second in English.

In total, 94 percent of Special Music School students passed this year's state standardized English exam and 97 percent passed the math test. In comparison, across the city, only 38 percent of students in grades three through eight met state reading standards and about 36 percent of city kids passed math tests, according to data released from the Department of Education.

Now, with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act at the end of last year, public schools across the nation are empowered to support music programs in their classrooms. However, we have a long way to go in implementing this. For instance, in 2014 in NYC alone, over a quarter of schools lacked even one full-time, certified arts teacher;16 percent of schools had no arts or cultural partnerships and 10 percent of schools had no dedicated arts room--even in a city that's known as a mecca for music, culture and the arts.

It's time we get all schools and administrators on board with providing their students the most robust and well-rounded education possible, and that includes music as part of the regular curriculum. Music education doesn't just help set students up for success in their academic careers, but it has many intrinsic benefits that will impact their lives outside of the classroom, teaching the values of discipline, teamwork, problem-solving, cooperation, determination and hard work. It enhances the way individuals think and express themselves, and impacts their understanding of the world, both musical and nonmusical.

We must stop treating music as white noise. Let's bring music into the classroom and enable it to hit the highest notes possible with our students. Now is our chance to change the tune for the next generation of thinkers, scientists, artists and leaders.