Ask anyone about the state of education today, and the response is likely to be a negative one. The outlook is gloomy on many fronts, from the rate of dropouts to increasing illiteracy to a lack of funding. On the latter front, the ongoing economic crisis has been trickling down to the education system for years, resulting in massive cuts. Often, these first affect what are deemed “nonessential” programs: arts, music, and extracurricular activities. For musical instrument stores in Houston and around the U.S., this is a grave trend. But advocates for music education are getting louder, and they have a whole lot of statistics in their favor.

The arguments in favor of music education are well documented, and proprietors of musical instrument stores in Houston – many of them the beneficiaries of a good music teacher or program – know them inside and out. But the general public may be somewhat less informed. The fact is that students who study music in Houston have proven over and over again to be more successful in other subjects. Supplementing academic subjects like math, science, and language with the arts has shown to be highly beneficial in forming the whole person. A California school superintendent notes that “experience in the arts accelerates learning in other areas. Children who are having difficulty in mathematics benefit from studying the spatial relationships associated with learning to read music. Students who have difficulty reading textbooks benefit from reading the words to a song during choral music instruction.”

But what about the school budget crisis? As it turns out, the benefits of cutting arts programs in schools in Houston and around the country may be overstated at best, even illusory. One case study illuminates the problem. A school proposed eliminating a sizeable percentage of its band and orchestra staff, ostensibly producing annual savings of $156,000. But such a move, which would eliminate musical classes for about 1,800 students who played instruments, would actually create the need to fill that class time with additional staff – more than six full-time employees. Over time, the decimation of the musical education program would actually create a need for another dozen full-time staff members, ultimately resulting in an economic shortfall of over half a million dollars. Those are eye-opening statistics for educators, board members, parents, and music store owners.

But statistics and case studies don’t make the case for musical education in Houston schools. When it comes to the benefits of playing an instrument, few can testify as eloquently as the parents of young musicians. Together with the music-store owners who rely on these young people’s passion to keep their businesses going, they may be music education’s most compelling champions.

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