Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Can Music Education Boost Latino Academic Success?

A new initiative launched by a group of  community, arts and education leaders in Austin, Texas is taking a different approach to tackling the Latino achievement gap.

The nonprofit Hispanic Alliance for the Performing Arts, seeking to increase Latino participation in the arts, is starting a local version of El Sistema, a music education program that emphasizes training in orchestral music for children. According to this story in the Austin American-Statesman, “the group came together after leaders noted that Hispanic participation in the arts has not kept pace with the population growth.”

The El Sistema program, a rigorous music training program first founded 30 years ago in Venezuela, has launched in dozens of cities around the U.S. already. Its website describes the program as a “visionary global movement that transforms the lives of children through music.” Gustavo Dudamel, music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic is a graduate of the program.

The Statesman article notes that a National Endowment for the Arts study found that only about one-third of adult Latinos attend arts events, compared with more than half of adult whites.  Only 3.8 percent of adult Latinos attended a classical music event, compared with 11.3 percent of the Anglo whites.

The group hopes to reduce the Latino dropout rate through  its efforts, citing a connection between student achievement and music education. The Austin American-Statesman article refers to a 2006 National Association for Music Education study that showed schools with music programs have  higher graduation rates than those without music programs.

If there is an El Sistema program or similar music training program for Latinos in your area, it would be worth looking at their success rates. Do their students perform better in academic areas? Have they made a dent in dropout rates?

What about music and other arts programs offered in schools? Are Latino students represented in music classes, band, choir, theater, and other arts activities? If so, how do those students compare to those who are not involved in arts training? If not, what accounts for the lack of representation? Have recent school budget cuts affected those programs?