How Valued is Music Education?

Elementary music teachers across the country almost uniformly feel that we don’t have enough time to teach our subject as well as we would like. According to the NAfMe Opportunity to Learn Standards, elementary schools should offer a minimum of 90 minutes per week of musical instruction. Yet most of us have somewhere between 30-80 minutes to teach each class.

An important responsibility of the music teacher is to be a strong advocate for his/her own program. Administrators are busy juggling state mandates, multiple schedules, discipline issues, and managing parents and teachers. Even if they are supportive of the fine arts, they are usually too busy to focus on best scheduling practice. In my experience, however, administrators are grateful for teachers who are willing to take on a leadership role in laying out schedules.

Before we even get to the stage of laying out the music teacher’s schedule and how this intersects with the rest of the school schedule, it’s important to realize the practical limitations. There is a finite number of minutes in a school day. When you subtract time for lunch, recess, and a few restroom breaks, the number is somewhere around 315 minutes of instruction each day. What percentage of that time is devoted to each subject? Many states mandate blocks of time for reading/literacy and math. In Iowa, these are 90 minutes and 60 minutes, respectively. That would be 29% and 20% of the teaching day for a 315 minute day.

Below is a time calculator. After opening the table, enter an estimated percentage for each subject. I included dance and drama because, hey, why not dream big! You can enter anything from 0-100%. Then at the bottom, enter the total minutes of learning per day. If you don’t know, you can use my estimate of 315 minutes to get started. Press the “Submit” button, and you will see the total minutes for each subject, per day and per week.

[expand title=”School Subject Time Calculator”]


Subject Percent Time Daily Minutes Weekly Minutes
Math %
Literacy %
Science %
Social Studies %
Guidance/Citizenship %
Library/Technology %
Physical Education %
Art %
Music %
Dance %
Drama %
Total
Enter minutes of daily instructional time (not counting lunch, recess, etc.)

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Find out what percent of time your subject is currently getting, and compare it to what percent the NAfME standards would require (around 6%). Now you have some solid, statistical “data” (administrators love that stuff) to use to advocate for your program! If you are way under the recommended amount, even if you can’t change it, you can use this to protect what you have, and not allow it to be further eroded. For example, if there is a pull-out program for students, you can make the argument that it should not happen during your meager time.

Feel free to share this page! I will try to write more advocacy posts soon.

2 thoughts on “How Valued is Music Education?

  1. I have been keeping track of how much time I have been spending on dance and drama activities. Even though I feel that with my 50 minutes of music per week per class is pretty good, I also feel that it is still short of the amount of music instruction I received as an elementary student. Back then we had general music for 1/2 hour a week, chorus 1/2 hour, and elementary band 1/2, which few elected not to do. I try to make sure my students get as much as I can squeeze in in a well rounded format, this all includes analyzing, describing, writing essays, and even assessments. A lot to think about these days.

    1. Hey Kevin,

      Sorry I didn’t reply earlier. Just got back from AOSA! Thanks for your thoughts. In addition to changing since we were kids, I think there’s still a huge regional division in difference of time. By my informal data gathering, many in New England are at 30-40 minutes per week, while the Midwest is higher (maybe 50-90). Those are the two regions I’m most familiar with.

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