Can we prove this works? Why yes, we can.
Okay, the first round of studies is done and I’ve analyzed the data. A HUGE thank you to Ms. Campa and all the teachers at Kingsley Elementary who participated! You can download the whole doc here, but below is a quick overview:
For 20 years (eighteen years as a K-5 teacher in LAUSD and two years of writing, recording, and performing educational music full-time), I have been using music as a tool to help students learn the fundamentals of science, math, history, and other core subjects. Use of the arts in schools has been consistently shown (Galef, Gardner, etc.) to raise student achievement, but evidence for the effectiveness of my own music specifically was only anecdotal. My own experience and that of other teachers has been that my music is a highly effective instructional tool, but if I intend to seek funding for my nonprofit to continue offering its services for no charge to schools, libraries, and other places of learning then I need more than just professional opinion.
My hypothesis was that being exposed to one of my songs at least five times over a two-week period would produce in students a measurable gain in the content standards taught by the song. Students would take a short pre-quiz to measure what they already knew before hearing the song, then take the same quiz again two weeks later after hearing the song at least five times. Teachers were allowed to make any testing accommodations they would normally use (translating instructions, testing aloud, etc.) as long as they used the same accommodations for both quizzes. The “before” and “after” scores would then be compared to see if there was a significant difference in what the students knew. Note that this is not the way I would normally recommend teachers use my music; rather, I suggest it be included as a part of regular instruction (see details on my web site), not an isolated five-minute event. However, the objective here was to “isolate the variable” to more clearly determine whether the music was making a difference.
In May and June of 2013 the teachers of an elementary school in LAUSD very kindly agreed to participate in my study. The students of the school are 55% ELD, which is about double the average for California; 100% of the students are eligible for free breakfast and lunch, which again is about double the average for California. Sixteen teachers agreed to participate in the study, but due to the many demands on their time only seven teachers were able to finish and turn in their results more-or-less as requested. One other teacher turned the quizzes in but since those quizzes were administered only six days apart, three of which were a holiday weekend with no school, the quizzes from that class had to be dropped from the study.
Kindergarten students went from a 40% average score on the pre-quiz to a 76% score on the post-quiz. Second grade students went from 38% to 84%. Third grade students went from 22% to 49%. Fourth grade students went from 16% to 53%. Fifth grade students went from 17% to 49%. More details on the quizzes and results may be found in the full study.
Conclusion: While music is no panacea, these results show a pretty solid gain for an activity that takes about five minutes a day and costs the school nothing. Note that this is one small study of about 160 students at one school. Note also that while I did what I could to reduce bias (I did not administer the quizzes, nor did I teach the music in person), I must acknowledge that I have a vested interest in the outcome. Therefore, I invite other educators to replicate my methods and see if they get similar results. The music is free on my website and I am happy to share my quizzes with anyone who wants them.