With budgets cut to the bone, music education programs in many districts have been trimmed and even eliminated. Student interest in them, however, has never been higher. A new study released by the National String Project Consortium (NSPC) indicates that, just prior to the economic meltdown, the number of students playing string instruments had increased from 18 percent in 1997 to 29 percent in 2009. While the study confirms promising news for interest in music education, it also predicts a national shortage of string teachers for 2010 through 2013—a loss of 1,000 teachers each year. Other music programs showed no significant increase or decrease.
"The Status of String and Orchestra Programs in United States Schools," released in February 2010, is the result of a May 2009 survey of almost 9,000 string and orchestra teachers. According to the study, between 2002 and 2009, racial minority enrollment increased to 35 percent, a 7 percent increase from 2001.
The future of string programs remains to be seen. Although string programs have generally been growing, 66 percent of programs had reduced funding between the 2003 and 2008 academic years.
"The general trend has been up. As expectations around the country are going up, playing a string instrument has been helpful," says Robert Jesselson, executive director of NSPC and distinguished professor at the University of South Carolina. "With the economy the way it is, it's going to be a whole new ballgame. The odds are up on the chopping block."
Jesselson cautions administrators not to cut music programs—in particular string programs—during these difficult financial times. String instruments, he says, lead to a number of benefits, including higher SAT scores, increased selfdiscipline, reduced absentee rates, and improved math skills. According to the study, over 95 percent of string programs are taught during school hours. Jesselson notes that eliminating the programs would only create a demand for other teachers during those periods.
"Building a string program takes a number of years and would be difficult to rebuild," says Jesselson. "It's easy to chop down a tree, but the tree takes a long time to grow."
To read the full NSPC report, visit www.stringprojects.org.