Music for All Resources
The Sound of Silence

The Unprecedented Decline of Music Education in California Public Schools:

A Statistical Review

New Report Documents Fifty Percent Decline in Music Education Programs in California Public Schools

Decline is Disproprotionate Versus Other Subjects

September 9, 2004 - Los Angeles, CA - A newly released report, The Sound of Silence - The Unprecedented Decline of Music Education in California Public Schools unveiled a 50 percent decline in the percentage of students in music education programs over the past five years, representing an actual student loss of over one-half million students. Over the same period, the number of music teachers has declined 26.7 percent for an actual loss 1,057 teachers.

The declines in music education enrollment and teaching positions far exceed those in any other subject.

The new report, produced by the Music for All Foundation, examined actual enrollment data from the California Department of Education covering the period 1999-2000 school year thru the 2003-2004 academic year.

The Key Findings:

• During the period when the total California public school student population increased by 5.8%, the percentage of all California public school students involved in music education courses declined by 50%. This decline is the largest of any academic subject area.

• Actual student participation in music declined by 46.5% representing a loss 512,366 students. This decline is the largest of any academic subject area by a factor of four. (Physical Education is second with a decline of 125,000 students representing a drop of 5.2% of the total PE enrollment)

• The number of music teachers declined by 26.7%. This represents an actual loss of 1,053 teachers.

• Participation in General Music courses (those courses designed to bring basic music knowledge and skills to young students) declined by 85.8% with the loss of 264,821 students. This represents over half of the total decline of participation in all Music Courses. This is followed by declines in Other Music Courses (- 48.5%, -103,783 students), Chorus (36.1%, -57,905 students), Band (-20.5%, -44,509 students), and Instrumental Lessons (-41.4%, -39,792 students).

• When student participation declines are compared to other academic subjects, Music tops the list. The decline in music participation (-46.5%, -512,388 students) leads all other areas including Physical Education (-5.24%, -125,156), Health (-12%, -31,660), Humanities (-37.5%, -25,622), Safety (-9.13%, -6,983), and Computer Education (-0.7%, -1,866). Art, Drama, Dance, Foreign Languages, Social Sciences, Science, Math and English all posted gains during the period.

We believe the picture painted by this actual data from the California Department of Education will become a wake-up call to policymakers, organizations, agencies, teachers, parents, students, business leaders, and all of those who are concerned about the quality of education provided to our children to take steps now to reverse this trend before it is too late, says Music for All Foundation chairman Bob Morrison.

In addition to detailing these findings on the state music crisis, a series of five recommendations are presented including calls for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, State Board of Education, Department of Education and/or the State Legislature to empanel a special taskforce to explore the cause of the rapid decline of music education and present recommendations to reverse this trend for action by the state.

The report's other recommendations include urging local school boards not to let the federal No Child Left Behind law interfere with music education, a position consistent with a recent letter from U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige; calling upon local educators to emulate the models of other California communities where music education is strong despite limited resources; urging local school districts to ask the state to make better use of federal grant monies; and calling for parents and other members of the public to become activists in their own home districts.

The decline in statewide music participation, and the proposed elimination of the graduation requirement, conflicts with public opinion: a nationwide 2003 Gallup poll found that 93 percent of Americans feel schools should offer musical instruction as part of the regular curriculum, and a California Public Opinion Survey released in 2001 by the California Arts Council found that 89 percent of Californians believe the arts help children develop creative skills, and 74 percent of them believe the arts improve the quality of children's overall education. Furthermore, recent scientific research links active music making with improved academic performance in students.

For many people from my generation to today's generation of parents, music was a basic part of our own education. In California, this is not the case anymore, says CMEA President Dr. Robert Klevan. It is unfortunate that in this great state, over half a million children will not have experienced the joys of learning and sharing music in public school classrooms. It is clear from the data reported in this document The Sound of Silence' that the years of cutting back programs, pink slipping music teachers, and eventually eliminating music teaching jobs in this state has taken its toll. Now is the time to act and move to reverse this downward trend.

Several prominent organizations have joined together to promote the report's findings. The American Music Conference; MENC, The National Association for Music Education; The Recording Academy; CMEA: The California Music Educators Association; the California Alliance for Arts Education; and the Music for All Foundation have joined forces to encourage parents, educators and members of the general public to raise their voices on this important issue and to support the reports recommendations. "The findings from the "The Sound of Silence" report relating to the state of music education in California public schools are both dramatic and disturbing. Together in concert with music industry artists and professionals, education experts, and policy makers and politicians alike, we must charter an open dialogue in order to ensure that schools are provided with the resources to include music in our state’s educational curriculum," stated Neil Portnow, President of the Recording Academy.

Everyone knows that California schools are suffering under dire financial strain, but the decline in music instruction is dramatically worse than in any other academic discipline,says Laura Johnson, associate executive director of the American Music Conference. We want to help the our policymakers understand why the arts and music education are essential to workforce development in California. The fact is that active participation in music is vital to kids' success, and California kids are losing out on an opportunity they'll never get back.

The California school music crisis has attracted the attention of several prominent music professionals and students themselves. Recording artist Sheila E. says, "It truly concerns me that after countless data and research gathered over the years regarding the importance and need for music and the arts in schools, we still have to fight to keep it in."

"I have devoted my life to helping abused children learn to cope with the victimization caused by their abusers, through alternative methods of music and art therapy to help them heal," Sheila E. notes. "In 1999, UCLA did a study and it was proven that music and the arts increased their retention, social, and mathematical skills by 40 percent. Not to mention, it taps into the very spirit of each child. So please, for God's sake, save the music education program, and save the very life of a child! In the end, their development to be a productive member of society will be secured."

Singer David Cassidy says, I would be devastated if my son could not have music as part of his curriculum in school. It should not be a choice between culture and technical training well-rounded students and graduates will make appropriate choices for their careers, but they must also be trained to make appropriate social choices. Music and art introduce them to a world larger than a classroom or a factory. In California, of all places, entertainment is the key to a vibrant economy. If we do not develop young adults capable of entering that world, the financial base of this state is sure to suffer and impact all of us.

Support for the group's efforts has also come from Fernando Pullum, music director at Washington Preparatory High School in Los Angeles, where the overall graduation rate is 30 percent but the graduation rate for band students is 90 percent. Music saves lives by raising kids' self-esteem and providing an alternative to the negative activities that are all too prevalent throughout the community that surrounds my school, Pullum says.

One of Pullum's former students, Lorenzo Johnson, has added his voice as well. Before attending Washington Prep, Johnson lived amid drugs and violence, struggled to stay out of gangs, and got poor grades, he recounts.

When I started high school, I decided to take a marching band class, he says. I started getting more involved in school, and my grades improved to As and Bs. I started composing music, and I received a commendation from the City Council for my musical activity. For those of us fortunate enough to have gone through Washington Prep's music magnet, we feel so blessed to have found a way out. I am now in college, but along with so many of my peers, I will continue to give back to my former school and to my community.

Sticking with the choir and band was an escape from hanging out with gang members and smoking marijuana, says another Washington Prep graduate, Nichol Luebrun. But the band and choir gave me more than just something to do. They changed my life. They instilled in me a love of music. They taught me discipline, perseverance, leadership, and boldness. I am proud to say that this past year I became the first person in my family to graduate from high school and attend college.


The Music for All Foundation is a national non-profit organization committed to expanding the role of music and the arts in education, to heightening the public's appreciation of the value of music and arts education, and to creating a positive environment for the arts through societal change. To learn more, visit

The American Music Conference is a national non-profit educational association dedicated to promoting the importance of music, music making and music education to the general public. The learn more, visit