Music in Education: Study Finds Link with Attendance and Graduation Rates


11.06.2006—Is there a link between attendance levels in high schools and the quality of music education programs in those schools? That’s the focus of a study just released by the National Association for Music Education (MENC) and audio industry trade group NAMM. The report, released the last week, finds a relationship between both the existence and the quality of music education programs and graduation and attendance rates in high schools.

MENC is an organization that promotes the inherent value of music education in schools, and the study—Understanding the Linkages Between Music Education and Educational Outcomes—set out to discern whether requirements from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) had been contributing to an erosion of music education programs. But the study did not focus exclusively on the impact of NCLB. It also polled the attitudes of school administrators toward music education in general and their own music programs in particular, drawing correlations between attitudes, demographics and student achievement.


MENC commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct this study. Over a two-week period in April and May, Harris polled 450 high school principals and vice principals, gauging their experience in music education and attitudes toward music programs. Respondents were selected by random sampling and included a mix of 65 percent principals and 35 percent vice principals. (See the Demographics section below for further details on respondents.) In terms of its representative sampling, this study has a margin of error of ±4.6 percent. Other, non-quantifiable sources of error can include errors in measurement resulting from the wording of questions, inaccurate responses and non-responses. All findings that appear in this report are based on data supplied to T.H.E. Journal by MENC, released in late October.


The key findings in this study relate to three links between music education and student achievement:

  1. Attendance and graduation rates in high schools with music programs versus those without music programs.
  2. Attendance and graduation rates in high schools in relationship to the quality of those music programs, as perceived by school administrators.
  3. Student achievement in relationship to the amount of importance administrators place on music education.

Importance of music education

Of those surveyed, seven out of 10 said that music education is either “extremely important” or “very important” to students’ overall academic achievements (Fig. 1).

Administrators with a background in music—either through a school music program or an extracurricular program—are more likely to agree that music education is extremely important to academic success: 23 percent, versus 11 percent for those who do not have a musical background. Twelve percent of those surveyed report that their school does not offer a music education program, but a full half of those said they think music education is extremely or very important. In schools where principals and vice principals say they feel that music education is extremely or very important, graduation rates are 89.2 percent versus a stated mean of 88.3 percent and an actual mean of 82.7 percent (in the period following the study).

Quality of music education

Administrators were also asked to rate the quality of their music education programs. Of those whose schools have music programs, 67 percent rated their music program as “excellent” or “very good,” while 10 percent rated it as “fair” or “poor.” (The remainder rated their programs as “good.”) By way of comparison, 78 percent rated their English and language arts programs as excellent or very good and 4 percent fair or poor. Math programs came in at 69 percent excellent or very good, 7 percent fair or poor.

Twenty-five percent of the total sample said they consider a quality music education program as “extremely important” to achieving higher graduation rates in schools (Fig. 2). Sixty-four percent said it was somewhat important, and 11 percent said that it is not important at all. Those in suburban areas (32 percent) and urban areas (31 percent) were far more likely to say that music education contributes to higher graduation rates than those in rural areas (17 percent).

In schools in which principals and vice principals say the quality of their music education programs is excellent or very good, graduation rates are 90.9 percent, and attendance is at 93.8 percent. In schools that have fair or poor-quality music education programs (as perceived by principals and vice principals), graduation rates are at 86 percent, and attendance is 90.7 percent.

Music education’s impact on achievement

All principals and vice principals were also asked how strongly they agree with a series of statements about the importance of music education. Fig. 3 summarizes these statements. A narrow majority of respondents (55 percent) said they “strongly agree” with the statement that “participating in music education encourages and motivates students to stay in school longer.” The strongest responses (with a 60 percent “strongly agree” rate) came from administrators in the western United States. Lower percentage (50 percent and 51 percent) were from respondents in the Northeast and South, respectively.

Half said they think students who participate in music education are more likely than other students to be engaged in other events and activities in school. The strongest responses in this case came from the Northeast, with 57 percent of those responding agreeing strongly with the statement. The lowest response came from the South, with 39 percent in strong agreement.

Forty percent of those surveyed strongly agreed that students who participate in music education generally achieve higher grades than those who are not involved in music education. In the Midwest, 46 percent agreed with this statement. In the South, only 25 percent strongly agreed with the statement.

Thirty-one percent also said they believed strongly that students in music programs are more likely than others to form deeper relationships with other students. The highest level of strong agreement came from the Midwest (39 percent), the lowest from the Northeast (26 percent).

Schools with music programs versus those without

Far more statistically significant, however, were attendance and graduation rates for high schools reported by those who have and who do not have a music education program (Fig. 4). There was a gap of more than 17 points in graduation rates: Schools with music programs came in at 90.2 percent; schools without came in at 72.9 percent. There was also a disparity in attendance rates, though not as large. Attendance rates at schools with music programs was reported at 93.3 percent; for those without, it was 84.9 percent.

Again, only 12 percent of respondents said that their schools did not offer music education programs. Those schools least likely to offer a music education program include:

  • Schools in which 50 percent or more of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunches (22 percent);
  • Schools whose principals or vice principals said they believe music education is only somewhat important or not at all important (28 percent);
  • Schools located in a suburban area, as defined by U.S. Census data tracks (48 percent).

In total, 66 percent of those surveyed said that music education is a requirement for graduation.

Funding, stability and the impact of NCLB on music education

Part of the goal of MEN’s study was to determine how music programs’ funding and stability had been affected over the last few years an what role No Child Left Behind has played in any changes that have taken place in these areas.

“Today’s educational environment presents many challenges for music education,” the report begins. “As No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has gone from concept to implementation, school districts have focused on making progress on the outcomes that NCLB requires. The result has been less emphasis and priority placed on subjects for which No Child Left Behind does not mandate testing, such as art and music education becoming particularly hard-hit.”

However, the results of this study do not necessarily bear out these statements—at least not at the high school level.

Of those surveyed, only 20 percent said that NCLB was having an impact (Fig. 4). But, critically, there was almost an even split between those who said NCLB was having a positive impact versus those who said it was having a negative impact. In fact, the balance swung just barely in favor of positive (51 percent to 49 percent).

In terms of funding, on average, principals and vice principals say that 8 percent of a school’s funding (7.8 percent mean) is allocated toward music programs and that 22 percent of their schools’ total music instruction budget comes from outside sources. (Principals in the South and in urban and suburban areas report higher amounts coming from outside sources.)

Furthermore, when asked about funding for music programs at the time of the survey versus three years ago, half said that funding, as a percentage of the school’s total instructional budget, had remained the same. Thirty-four percent said that funding for their music education programs had actually increased. And 12 percent said that funding had decreased. (The remainder did not know or didn't respond.)

And when asked about the growth and stability of their schools’ music programs, respondents said that their programs remained stable (43 percent) or were growing (45 percent) compared with three years ago. Ten percent said their music programs were “eroding.”

To break down the characteristics of those who said their music programs were growing, 52 percent of principals and vice principals in suburban areas said their music programs were growing. Forty-eight percent had responded that music education is “very important.” Fifty-six had responded that music education contributed “a great deal” to their school achieving higher graduation rates. And 52 percent had responded that their music programs were of excellent or very good quality.


Four hundred fifty high school principals and vice principals were polled for this survey. Of this sample, 79 percent were male. Sixty percent were located in urban or suburban areas. For the schools, the mean percentage of student who came from low-income families was 45, and the mean percentage of students who speak English as a second language was 11.5. In terms of enrollment, the plurality of respondents worked as schools with 10 to 499 students; schools with 1,000 to 2,999 students came in second, at 28 percent. Twenty-one percent have enrollment of 500 to 999. Eleven percent have fewer than 100 students. And 5 percent had 2,500 or more students.

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About the author: Dave Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's educational technology online publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at

Have any additional questions? Want to share your story? Want to pass along a news tip? Contact Dave Nagel, executive editor, at

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