Can we prove this works? Why yes, we can.
When we launched GriffinEd in 2012, we needed some data to support our mission. 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 30 years of teaching, writing, and performing 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 has been consistently shown (Galef, Gardner, etc.) to raise student achievement; but evidence for the effectiveness of my own music in particular was only anecdotal, which is to say we could show that kids did better at various academic tasks after working with my music but we could not empirically prove a causal relationship. So, we decided to do a proper study and see what happened.
My hypothesis was that being exposed to one of GriffinEd’s 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 (without having had any feedback from the first quiz) after hearing the song at least five times in the interim. 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 show whether the music was making a measurable difference.
In May and June of 2013 the teachers of an elementary school in LAUSD very kindly agreed to participate in the study. The students of the school were 55% ELD (learning English as a second language), which is about double the average for California; 100% of the students were 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 administered the quizzes but did not include the music during the interim, so this class was our control group since there was no intervention between the quizzes.
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 the GriffinEd website, and I am happy to share the quizzes with anyone who wants them.