Policies, Practices, and Promises: Challenges to Early Childhood Music Education in the United States
By Persellin, Diane Cummings
Abstract: The United States has achieved nearly universal access to education and has witnessed a phenomenal growth in the number of children who attend child care programs. In addition, researchers and practitioners are making notable advances in the field of early childhood music. Many preschools, however, feel pressure to accelerate learning for young children to prepare them for high- stakes testing in the elementary schools at the expense of early childhood music programs. In this article, the author looks at policies that have impacted early childhood music education practices, examines challenges that No Child Left Behind and other policies present, and presents promising practices and future recommendations for early childhood music. Keywords: early childhood music, No Child Left Behind, United States
The United States has achieved nearly universal access to education and has also witnessed a phenomenal growth in the number of students who attend college. The greatest strides, however, have been made in early childhood education. In 1915, only 12 percent of children aged five or younger attended an early childhood program, yet by 2005, 57 percent of all three- to six-year-old children attended center-based programs (Hallquist 2000; The National Center for Education Statistics 2006). Moreover, researchers and practitioners are making notable advances in the field of early childhood music. Researchers are developing a knowledge base of children’s socioemotional, cognitive, and psychomotor development (e.g., Gromko and Poorman 1998; Jordan-DeCarbo and Galliford 2001; Pflederer 1964; Troll-inger 2003), and the number of early childhood music studies is at an all-time high. Recent articles in Newsweek and Time emphasized the role of early music education (e.g., Begley 1996, 2000; Nash 1997). Yet, it is troubling that, although the importance of music for young children is a topic of interest in the media, national standards for prekindergarten music (The Consortium of National Arts Education Associations 1994) have been written by music educators, and an impressive number of children have access to early childhood programs, few of these programs offer high-quality music education (Nardo et al. 2006).
The quality and focus of these centers is inconsistent at best. Although some centers focus only on custodial care of young children for their working parents, other preschool programs concentrate their efforts on academic enrichment. Currently, many preschools in the country feel pressure to accelerate learning for young children to prepare them for high-stakes testing in the elementary schools (Tyre 2006). Unfortunately, the impact of mandatory testing through No Child Left Behind (NCLB; U.S. Department of Education 2002) is not limited to the eight- to fifteen-year-old children who are being tested. In this article, I look at some of the policies that have impacted early childhood music education practices, the challenges that these policies present, and a few promising practices in early childhood music.
History and Models of Government Support of Early Childhood Education
Although most states do not require kindergarten attendance, all states now offer public programs for five-year-olds (Bredekamp 1996). Prekindergarten programs can be found in a variety of settings, including (a) private preschools and classes, (b) government-funded programs and preschool programs in elementary schools, (c) child care settings, and (d) more informally with parents and playgroups (Sims 2000). These child care and preschool programs are divided into a two-track system based on income. Nursery schools or preschools grew out of university departments of home economics as a laboratory for child development and parent education. Children who attended these programs were usually from affluent families who believed that enrichment outside of the home was important for their children. In contrast, child welfare programs provided service for children of employed mothers or low- income families. Their main emphases were on health, safety, and custodial care of the children.
The U.S. government has had little control over education policy, which was historically given to the states. Furthermore, the states turned over much of this control to local school districts. Several federal programs, however, have impacted child care and early childhood education. Although only two of these programs have mentioned early childhood arts education, these legislated policies create a picture of child care in the United States in the past one hundred years. I offer a brief history of early childhood trends and policy in the following.
Trends of early childhood education have long been dictated by the United States’ perceived need for mothers to work outside the home, and contradictorily, to stay home to care for their children. President Theodore Roosevelt fueled the persistent ambivalence toward mothers working outside the home when he stated, “Mothers should raise their own children” (Friedman 2007). Tensions also abounded in terms of level of income and quality of care offered. For example, in the early 1900s both day care nurseries (custodial care) for impoverished families with working mothers and preschools (early educa-tion) for the affluent were established in the major cities. Individuals concerned about the quality of these proliferating programs founded the National Association for Nursery Education in 1929, which later became the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). NAEYC members, although few in number, were actively involved in the development and implementation of Works Progress Administration (WPA) nursery schools during the Great Depression in the 1930s. The services of WPA child care centers were available to poor parents who could not otherwise provide for their children and to parents whose employment depended on securing reliable care for their young children. By 1937, nearly two thousand WPA day care centers served over forty thousand children; however, most of these programs provided only custodial care and minimal staff training (Hymes 1978).
During World War II, the Lanham Act provided federal funds to establish child care centers in factories to meet the needs of women employed in defense plants (Jordan and Nelson 2002). Following the war, the government revoked these funds, expecting women to return home to tend to their children. Most child care centers closed and those that remained lapsed to prewar levels. Once again, people perceived child care as harmful to children, although many viewed nursery schools used by affluent families as providing positive enrichment (Day 1983).
By 1965, 40 percent of women age sixteen and over returned to work. With more women entering the workforce, increased numbers of single-parent families, and the breakdown of extended family support, the need for child care grew (Henry 1998). The 1960s marked innovative, national efforts to improve the lives of low-income people. Children composed nearly half of the nation’s poor. Thus, providing support to the poor meant furnishing health and social services to three- and four-year-old children and their families. President Johnson launched his War on Poverty legislation, introducing Project Head Start in 1965 (Head Start Publication and Information Center 2007), an early childhood program developed as a means to overcome poverty. In contrast to earlier emphasis on social development through play, Head Start placed more emphasis on academic and intellectual performance of children. Today Head Start reaches every state in the United States. With an annual budget of over five billion dollars, this agency serves over eight hundred thousand children each year. Although these numbers are impressive, Head Start continues to be so underfund-ed that it serves only about half of the eligible three- and four-year-old children for only part of the time their parents are working (Friedman 2007).
Although the emphases on academic and intellectual performance of children are laudable, the arts have not flourished in Head Start programs. Only isolated examples of innovative music programs in Head Start centers across the country exist (Heyge 2000; Persellin 2002; Toth 1996). We have yet to establish a quality music curriculum in every Head Start (Hallquist 2001).
In 1997, President and Mrs. Clinton hosted the White House conference on early childhood development and learning. This conference provided a public forum for early childhood experts, investigators, and pediatricians to share information on the importance of social, intellectual, and emotional development during the early childhood years. During this forum, President Clinton also announced the expansion of the Early Head Start programs, which would begin to offer services to children from birth to age three, as well as their families. Although this was a welcome increase in funding, it is insufficient. Early Head Start only services one in fifty eligible children (Friedman 2007).
Although government commitment is increasing, funding continues to be inadequate. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1997) require that all early childhood programs provide reasonable accommodations for children with disabilities or developmental delays (Bre-dekamp and Copple 1997). Some school districts, such as those in Arizona and Texas, now have a music therapist available for severely handicapped children. Moreover, legislation such as the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act (1990) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (1993) signify the United States’ growing commitment to providing more services for young children. Yet, these acts are insufficient without the requisite funding. The Child Care and Development Block Grant, designed to help low-income parents pay for child care, only serves one out of eight eligible children (Friedman 2007). Although other countries have had national standards and curricula in place for a long time, this concept is relatively new to the United States. Historically, control of our education philosophy and system has been in the hands of the individual states and local school districts. In 1994 and 2002, Congress took significant steps by passing the National Standards for Arts Education (The Consortium of National Arts Education Associations 1994) and NCLB (U.S. Department of Education 2002). Although little standardization exists in the curricula or standards of elementary and secondary programs, even less uniformity is in preschools and prekindergarten programs, which are held to a minimal level of accountability. The National Standards for Arts Education (The Consortium of National Arts Education) were important because the standards emphasized the importance of early experiences in setting the foundation for future learning. Additionally, national legislation included arts as a core curricular subject for the first time.
The National Standards for Arts Education (The Consortium of National Arts Education Associations 1994) addressed what students should know and should be able to do in their K-12 education. Although prekindergarten standards were not supported by funding agencies, the National Association for Music Education (MENC; 1994, 1995) took the initiative and bore the expense of developing these guidelines and including them in all of their standards related publications.
MENC produced a series of four books and pamphlets to disseminate information and teaching strategies related to the standards to music and early childhood educators and care providers:
1. Prekindergarten Music Education Standards (The National Association for Music Education 1995), which provides standards for curriculum, scheduling, staffing, and equipment;
2. The School Music Program-A New Vision: The K-12 National Standards, PreK, and What They Mean to Music Educators (The National Association for Music Education 1994), which helps both music and early childhood education providers to interpret what standards mean in practice;
3. Strategies for Teaching Prekinder-garten Music (The National Association for Music Education 1995), which provides principles and examples of developmentally appropriate learning activities for use with pre-K children;
4. Opportunities to Learn Standards for Music Instruction (Lehman 1994).
Prekindergarten national standards list four content standards intended for age four. Developmentally appropriate activities should be used for children at earlier levels because their skills develop along a continuum. The four standards, with brief descriptors, are the following:
1. Singing and playing instruments. Children are encouraged to use their voices to speak, chant, and sing a variety of simple songs. They are also encouraged to improvise and play a variety of instruments and sound sources.
2. Creating music. Children are encouraged to improvise songs and accompaniments.
3. Responding to music. Children are encouraged to identify a wide variety of sound sources and to respond through movement to a variety of music.
4. Understanding music. Children describe music in their own words and respond to music through singing, playing, and moving.
These standards were not designed to prescribe any particular methodology, teaching approach, or materials; those were left to the teacher’s professional judgment. In a recent study, Nardo et al. (2006) examined musical practices, musical preparation of teachers, and music education needs as reported by early childhood professionals in the United States. The researchers sent a survey based on MENC’s National Standards for Pre-K Music (The Consortium of National Arts Education Associations 1994) and the Opportunity to Learn Music Standards-Pre-K (1994) to a random sample of NAEYC- accredited preschools across the country. Findings indicated that current practices in these accredited preschools did not match national standards in music. The researchers’ concluding recommendation in the published report was: “We [music educators] need to develop a strategic, long-term plan for proactive change, based on what we hear from professionals [early childhood care pro- viders] in this investigation. We must listen to the voices of those who are charged with the music education of the youngest students, and provide what they need to deliver meaningful educational experiences” (Nardo et al., 290).
NCLB was intended to hold schools accountable for student achievement, to return control of education to local schools, and to encourage instruction based on research (U.S. Department of Education 2002). Recently, the U.S. public school system has received criticism as graduating seniors’ test scores decline in both math and reading. More than double the amount of money spent thirty years ago on K-12 education is spent now, with no increase in test results (Klein 2007). NCLB was intended to address these issues and others. Unfortunately, most of the publicity and perceived focus of this act has been on testing rather than on research-based instruction.
NCLB presents both opportunities and challenges to music programs in the United States. Opportunities arising from the act include the consistent use of language that embraces support for arts programs, which are included as one of ten core academic subjects along with English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, history, and geography. The act further indicates that when states are making funding decisions, the core academic subjects should be supported. Theoretically, for the first time, the arts are eligible to receive federal funds.
Unfortunately, NCLB presents more challenges than opportunities to early childhood music education. This act entrusts the states with determining how federal funds are spent. Schools are now required to test third through eighth graders in math and reading each year. Low-performing schools face serious penalties. This high- stakes testing in math and reading has created challenges for music education programs. Three recent surveys reported a negative impact on music education because of NCLB. A survey of 956 K-12 principals indicated gains in student achievement, but 71 percent of the nation’s fifteen thousand school districts have reduced instructional time in history, music, and other subjects to make more time for math and reading (Council for Basic Education 2004). In a second study, researchers found that elementary leaders reported a 22 percent decline in art and music instruction because of NCLB (Dillon 2006). More recently, Avril and Gault (2006) reported 45 percent of 214 principals surveyed responded that NCLB had a negative or strongly negative effect on music education. Although mandatory testing of children under this law does not begin until third grade, early childhood music programs also suffer. Math and reading teachers have replaced some music teachers previously assigned to teach prekindergarten and kindergarten music at low- performing schools (B. Halverson, pers. comm).
In a recent cover article in Newsweek-” The New First Grade: Are Kids Getting Pushed Too Fast, Too Soon?”- Tyre (2006) also expressed concern about loss of instructional time in the arts because of mandatory testing under NCLB. Tyre reported,
In the last decade, the earliest years of schooling have become less like a trip to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and more like SAT prep. Thirty years ago, first grade was for learning how to read. Now, reading lessons start in kindergarten and kids who don’t crack the code by the middle of the first grade get extra help. In some places, recess, music, art, and even social studies are being replaced by writing exercises and spelling quizzes. (36)
State Standards and Licensure
As a result of the national music standards, fifteen states and the District of Columbia have standards for prekin-dergarten with five more in development (Flohr 2005). In Illinois (Illinois Early Learning Project 2007), the standards state: “Investigate the elements of music and describe or respond to their own creative work or the creative work of others.” The impressive guidelines in Pennsylvania include creative expression in art, music, and movement from three-months-old through toddlers (Pennsylvania Learning Standards for Early Childhood 2007; J. Rutkowski, pers. comm).
Yet, early music education remains full of contradiction. For example, Texas (Texas Education Agency 2007) guidelines suggest that children begin to: (a) participate in music activities, (b) sing a variety of simple songs, (c) play classroom instruments, (d) respond to music through movement, and (e) distinguish the sounds of several instruments. However, directors of prekinder-garten programs I interviewed for this article were not familiar with these state music guidelines. Several university professors from other states, teaching courses in music education, were also unfamiliar with their state’s early childhood music guidelines. Although these are isolated examples, they throw into question the successful implementation of state standards. Availability of prekindergarten programs in public schools also varies widely from state to state, district to district, and school to school within a district. District and school interest, available space, and funding all play a role in the decision to include prekindergarten children in public schools. Many schools have special programs for children with special needs, whereas other schools’ programs have no requirements for attendance. Some schools require that the child be “at risk” to attend a program. These children may have one or both parents absent from the household, low family income, or no employed parent or may speak little English.
All Is Not Lost: Promising Practices
Despite tremendous differences in public schools, federal and state standards that are not enforced, uninformed practitioners, and challenges of federal acts, there are promising practices and models of innovative prekindergarten programs occurring across the country. In Arizona, some four-year-old children attend a young kindergarten class that meets for half days in preparation for full-day kindergarten at age five. The public school system offers developmental preschool programs to children with special needs or from low socioeconomic status. Students attend as peers at these programs and do not have to meet any set criteria of being “at risk” (S. Cooper, pers. comm.).
In Oregon, some three- and four-year-olds attend self- sufficiency programs in high schools. High school student teachers, chosen from those who completed a course in child development and methods and served a year as volunteers, assist the director. A teen mother who wishes to complete her high school education may ask the state to pay the cost for her child to attend (M. Van Rys- selberghe, pers. comm.).
Although classroom teachers rather than specialists teach music in most public schools’ prekindergarten programs, there are exceptions to the rule. The Northside Independent School District, the largest school district in San Antonio, makes it a priority to assign music specialists to teach prekindergarten classes one day each week. The classroom teacher then reinforces the music lesson on the other days. Cain (D. Cain, pers. comm.), Northside Independent School District elementary music supervisor, stated “music makes more of a difference in pre-K and kindergarten than in any of the other years.” Nonetheless, early music education policies and practices remain inconsistent. Several states, such as Ohio, are currently battling to protect their K-12 music programs. In such situations, it is difficult to prioritize early childhood music programs (Bennett 2006; A. Chivington, pers. comm.).
In Texas, as in many other states, licensure standards for early childhood caregivers in prekindergarten programs are minimal; the applicants need only be eighteen years of age, hold a high school degree or General Education Degree, and spend eight hours in an early childhood workshop (Texas Education Agency 2007). Although music classes are not required, teachers are encouraged to promote the child’s creative nature. Currently, NAEYC is striving to strengthen minimal certification requirements by recommending that all early childhood teachers have an associate arts degree with at least three college classes in early childhood. NAEYC would then recommend that, within the next ten years, all early childhood teachers attain a bachelor’s degree. Head Start is also moving toward requiring that all care providers have a four-year degree, but this has proven to be difficult to enforce (Morgan 2007).
Ideally, training for prekindergarten music programs should occur through community college and university-level courses required for certification or degree programs. Trained musicians who have expertise in the musical growth of young children should teach these courses. A community college course Nardo (2001) developed could serve as a model for other programs across the country. In her study of early childhood music programs in California, Nardo concluded that, because the demands of learning music are highly complex, music courses required of early childhood education majors should span no less than two semesters and include a breadth of knowledge concerning music teaching and learning. As a result of this study, California community colleges adopted a preschool music specialist program. This music curriculum prepares early childhood educators to guide the musical experiences and education of children from birth to age eight. College students gain practical experience in selecting and presenting age appropriate, multiethnic teaching materials through a four semester sequence of courses.
Bridging the Gap between Research and Practice
Historically in the United States, most universities have prepared students for a teaching certificate for grades K-12. Music specialists or preservice teachers gave little attention to early musical development because music teachers generally do not teach in preschool settings (Scott-Kassner 1999). However, many universities are now developing early childhood music courses for music and education majors. Innovative, university-sponsored music programs for young children can also be found throughout the country. These programs include efforts by the University of Miami (Jordan 1998; Jordan and Galliford 2007), the Eastman School of Music (Fox 1990), the Early Childhood Music Academy at Brigham Young (Kenney 2007), Michigan State University’s early childhood music program (Taggart 1998), the Hartt School of Music (Feierabend 1998), and the Oberlin Conservatory (Bennett 2006; Jarjisian 1998). University professors, local music educators, and college students have joined forces to lead music activities for young children within a university- developed curriculum.
Commercially developed early childhood music programs are also increasing in popularity. Respected early childhood music educators who have published their own music curricula have created these programs. Programs include Kin-dermusik, Music Together, Yamaha, and Musikgarten. Some offer online and summer certification courses for adults to start their own classes with children. The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and others provide imaginative symphony orchestra education programs for young children and their families.
The longitudinal study of the Perry preschool project (Weikart 1996) is one example of an early childhood program that has been well documented. Developed in the 1960s, this project provided high- quality preschool education to three- and four-year-old African American children living in poverty and assessed to be at high risk of school failure. Results showed that participants, now adults, continued to outperform those without preschool in terms of educational attainment, income, and socially responsible behavior (Weikart). In this study, the researcher considered music and movement to be key experiences and they played a central role in the project, now known as the High/ Scope Education Foundation.
Researchers (Jordan and Galliford 2007; Jordan-DeCarbo and Galliford 2001) have conducted several studies on the effects of sequential music programs on motor, cognitive, social and emotional, and musical abilities of disadvantaged preschoolers. Results indicated the experimental group in each study scored significantly higher on nearly all sub-tests. In the second study, the researchers successfully trained preschool teachers without previous music experience, rather than music educators, to teach music with easy- to-use materials.
Cummings (1981) sent kits of research-based early childhood music manipulatives to day care centers in thirty states. These kits contained xylophone bells, a cassette tape and matching puzzles, a familiar song cassette tape, wooden “singing people dolls,” and simple instructions for each activity or manipulative. After a three- week trial, caregivers evaluated their comfort level and children’s success with materials and activities. Results indicated that the greatest successes occurred with materials and activities that were more structured than freely creative.
Inspired by research indicating positive benefits to infants while listening to classical music, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Science (NARAS) and Enfamil infant formula joined forces to produce a CD called Smart Symphonies. The CDs were included in more than one million diaper bags as new mothers left the hospital (The Grammy Foundation 1999).
Parents of young children are becoming more interested in quality early childhood materials and music programs. Response to the widely publicized research on the “Mozart effect” is one example of this interest (e.g., Begley 1996, 1997; Campbell 1997). Parents feel pressured to provide their children with optimal materials and experiences that will provide an edge in a competitive world. Some parents seek out quality early childhood music programs whereas others purchase music toys, recordings, and videos for their children.
There are additional efforts to close the gap between researchers and practitioners and between music educators and early childhood teachers. The early childhood profession is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of music education. A keyword search for music in back issues of Young Children, the NAEYC journal, resulted in four articles from 1985-95 and twenty-two articles from 1995- 2004 (Nardo et al. 2006). MENC sponsored the Tanglewood Symposium in 1967 and the GO Project in 1969 (Mark 1986), both of which advocated the expansion of music education to include preschool music. In 1980, MENC established a special research interest group in early childhood music to disseminate research to teachers and child caregivers. In 1984, the first music education conference devoted to early childhood music took place at Brigham Young University (Boswell 1985). Since 1988, as part of their national biennial conference, MENC has also dedicated a day for local early childhood educators, child care providers, and early childhood music educators to work with nationally recognized music education professionals. In 2000, representatives from MENC, NAEYC, and the U.S. Department of Education came together at a summit meeting titled “Start the Music” (Boston 2000). This meeting’s goal was to promote music education as basic education and integral to the education of children at any age. NAEYC expressed interest in involving MENC in revising music guidelines for certification programs.
The International Society of Music Educators Early Childhood Commission provides a biannual conference with participants from many corners of the world presenting papers and workshops, and sharing ideas about music and young children. The journal Early Childhood Connections provided a valuable service to music educators and early childhood educators but, unfortunately, is no longer published because of lack of funding. The most recent textbook series adopted by elementary schools across the country has added preK music books, which are often included as part of a K-5 textbook adoption.
Increasing numbers of research studies, conferences, and special initiatives are evidence of greater interest in early childhood music education. Meaningful research and effective communications that provide justification for sequential, developmentally appropriate music programs for young children must be two of our highest priorities. Researchers and music education practitioners must continue to work with early childhood educators to ensure that all children in early childhood settings have access to the highest- quality musical experiences. Additional recommendations include the following:
* The music education profession must make a more concerted effort to bridge the gap between early childhood research and practice. Documenting and communicating why music is important to the lives of young children is of utmost importance.
* The music education profession must continue to develop stronger relationships with NAEYC, Head Start, and other early childhood constituencies to work together to develop music curricula and materials for young children.
* Early childhood music educators should make it a priority to present workshops and in-service programs to early childhood caregivers and educators at their meetings.
* Community college early childhood certification programs must require at least two courses in early childhood music education for all students seeking certification.
* College and university teacher education programs must require at least one course for all music education and education majors.
* High school courses in parenting that include the arts should be developed.
* The music education profession should continue to lobby legislators about the importance of arts for young children.
All young children should have access to quality music education. The greatest responsibility of communicating the importance of this issue lies with the music education profession. Our policymakers, whether they are legislators in Washington or directors of preschools, need to understand the importance of the arts at the core of the curriculum. Nonetheless, it is up to the music educators to provide our policymakers with compelling research, materials, and support to make strong early childhood music programs happen.
Zoltan Kodaly (1941/1964) wrote:
Music should belong to everyone: it is everyone’s property. But how can we ensure this? We can do it by ensuring that small children’s interest in music . . . is not ignored for years on end. We can do it by ensuring that the music within them grows and develops from the earliest stage of life . . . . Attention focused on the nursery school and on the related music is, therefore, by no means of secondary importance. It is equal to the task of building a country. No person can be fully happy if he cannot derive pleasure from music. (1)
Currently, many preschools in the country feel pressure to accelerate learning for young children to prepare them for high- stakes testing in the elementary schools.
Unfortunately, NCLB presents more challenges than opportunities to early childhood music education.
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Diane Cummings Persellin is a professor of music education at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. She is editor of General Music Today, a commissioner on the International Society for Music Education Early Childhood Commission and past president of Texas Music Educators Conference.
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