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Test scores are important, but so is music education

Despite glitzy talent shows like “The Voice” or “American Idol,” music is less a road to riches and fame than it is a path to real learning for countless kids in communities across the nation.

When children study music, they are developing the part of their brains they use for language and reasoning. Music education is linked to spatial intelligence and creativity. It requires listening, then learning how to weave disparate ideas. Again and again, research shows music education is a critical component of the overall learning process.

At New Haven Community Schools, we’re seeing firsthand how music is helping our students learn and achieve.

This is happening as too many policymakers and communities are forced to treat music education as a luxury in times of tight finances and budget cuts in the classroom. To protect core academic programs, local public schools must make tough choices every day. Music is often the first to go.

Four years ago, New Haven was in that position. Much loved as it was, our music program could not escape the difficult cut.

Then something extraordinary happened. People in the community stepped forward and began working with New Haven Community Schools to bring the music back. They dug up old sheet music. They donated old clarinets, flutes, guitars, drum sets and more that had been gathering dust in attics, spare bedrooms and garages. In addition to musical instruments, the community gave our students their time and financial support.

We heard the same chorus again and again: These community residents, many of them products of New Haven Community Schools, kept saying how music had been such an important part of their education, how music had helped them become who they are today.

Our community came together with educators and students to help provide a solution to a challenge all public schools in Michigan face, and that was how to save a program the community wanted but could no longer afford.

Today, what had been an abandoned music room at the high school is alive with music, transformed into a space for learning where music and ideas are being harmonized and shared.

When New Haven was recognized nationally in 2014 for our commitment to music education by the National Association of Music Merchants, that award validated our community’s support and our commitment to musical education. Our children are not only better learners, they are more attentive and creative ones. They are solving problems, collaborating with one another and learning life skills with help from music.

Music education has been linked to so many singularly successful people that its impact cannot be ignored. Google co-founder Larry Page (high school saxophone), former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan (clarinet), Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (guitar), former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (piano) and so many other highly successful individuals credit their music education for giving them the courage to create, to collaborate for success, to see solutions where none may be immediately obvious.

Test scores are important. So are music and other forms of learning that may not appear on a standardized exam. Music is not on the MEAP, yet our experience in New Haven leads us to believe that musical education should be offered in all schools across Michigan.

Music may not make every child the next Bruce Kovner, Juilliard-trained pianist and billionaire investor behind Facebook. But what it can do is give all Michigan kids a better opportunity to succeed as learners.

By Keith Wunderlich,l www.freep.com, www.msidallas.com