Losing the Steins, Data, and Music Education


A team of researchers at Stanford University recently studied the careers of America’s best and brightest innovators and inventors and concluded that children who come from the top 1% of household wealth are 10X more likely to file for and receive a patent than those coming from lower income households. The children from the lesser affluent areas showed equal aptitude and ability but consistently achieved at a lower level.

What were the difference makers between those who succeeded and those who didn’t? The answer: the access and opportunity that comes with affluence.

The study went on to conclude that, year after year, America loses thousands of potential Einsteins to poverty. These children are capable and willing, but lack the opportunities afforded to their more affluent counterparts.

Yes, we are losing Einsteins, but what about Bernsteins?

A 2013 data study of public school students involved in music education showed that while the disparities of wealth were not as prevalent, there were inequities and trends were worth noting, including:

  • Participation in music among 8th grade students has trended down from 55% in 2004 to 46% in 2013.
  • White students showed higher participation rates than their non-white counterparts. 
  • Females are much more likely to participate in the arts than males
  • Teens whose parents were more educated had a higher rate of participation than those whose parents were less educated. 
  • Students who plan on attending a university showed significantly higher participation rates than students who did not plan on attending college. 

The disparities only grow larger once students leave school. According to Data USA , among music professionals:

  • On average, men earn significantly more money than women. On average both earned below the adjusted federal poverty limit for a family of four, $35,785
  • Men make up 60% of the workforce with women making up 40%. 
  • 76% of the professional world is white, with the remaining 14% being other ethnicities. 
  • Most professionals have college degrees, with the greatest concentration being in music (40%), education (20%), and business (10%). 

I know that we as music educators work hard each and every day to cross the ethic and economic divides. I also know that music represents a great equalizer for many young people as it provides positive life experiences that can provide a pathway out of poverty. But, we can still do more. 

Regardless of our shortcomings, America’s music education system (music instruction contained within the school day) is the largest and most successful system in the world. The data shows that our singular and comprehensive approach exposes young people or all backgrounds to music in ways that places us at the top of the educational mountain top. We are able to achieve all of this because of YOU! YOU are the best of the best and the standard bearers for this incredible activity throughout the world.

But as we stand at the mountaintop, we all know that we have some room too grow in ensuring that ALL students, regardless of gender, race, and socio-economic status can make the climb with us. 

After all, what good is making it to the top if we left behind a generation of Bernsteins Or Einsteins.

Have a great week.