04/09/2013 06:03 pm ET Updated Jun 09, 2013

Hitting the Right Note in Education Reform

For far too long, U.S. policymakers have sought to find a magic bullet to cure the myriad of problems facing the American education system. There is no easy, single answer to how to fix the education system, but instead we need to utilize a number of programs and philosophies. However, basic changes can be implemented that can have a profound impact on students' learning. One proven way, is through music education.

In inner-city schools, much of the arts curriculum has been stripped out over the years. In many cases, the curriculum has become too basic, especially in the poorest communities. Slowly, we are introducing music back into these schools, and the results speak for themselves.

As schools look for ways to re-introduce the arts back into the curriculum, some schools are opting for exposure opportunities, by bringing in an artist here or there, or through programs that donate arts materials but don't include a plan for how to incorporate these things into the overall learning plan. Education Through Music is the only nonprofit in New York City that provides a comprehensive program to bring music education to inner-city schools, ensuring that the work we are doing will have a long-term impact with the students we serve.

Many education models focus on high school, and getting students into college. But we shouldn't miss the early years of learning, where there is an opportunity to engage students and to create life-long learners, who are naturally eager and want to learn. Engaging students at an early age means, many times, that they remain engaged in the learning process throughout their school careers. While it often goes unsaid, many students are dropping out of school because they are not becoming engaged in the learning. The statistics are very well known in the education community: every year 1.2 million students drop out of school, with the U.S. ranking 21st in graduation rates.

Education Through Music addresses this dropout issue, by getting students excited about school. We see it in the 28 schools where we have programs in New York City, and at our affiliates in San Francisco and Los Angeles. As one principal commented about the program, it is unbelievable that students are arriving several hours early to participate in band and orchestra. Music has become a way to find passion in students, to learn to work with others, and to gain self-confidence. It has become a way to literally get students excited to participate in school.

But music classes should not be an island. That is why Education Through Music's model focuses not only on teaching music as a core subject, but integrating other subjects into music education. Two-thirds of U.S. eighth graders aren't rated proficient in reading or math for their grade level. Research shows that Education Through Music students achieve improved test performance in math and English language arts. Our teachers go through a extensive vetting process, and receive continuous professional development to ensure high-quality instruction is at the core of what we do.

Also key to the Education Through Music model is engagement of key influencers in students' lives. We never go into a school where there is not a principal who agrees to be dedicated to implementing and supporting a comprehensive music education program. Non-music teachers are also engaged to ensure that the full educational experience is cohesive and has the most impact for all students. And finally, parents are engaged in the process, through music programs and events.

We are seeing strong results from utilizing music education to engage students in school. Our model isn't for every school. It requires dedication and commitment from the school community. For the schools who have made this commitment, they are seeing results that clearly make the case that all students should have quality music education in their schools.