The Grade the Music Died: A Survival Analysis of Student Persistence in School Music Electives from 6th to 12th Grade

Tevis L. Tucker

Advisor: Adam Winsler, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Thalia R. Goldstein, Olga Kornienko

Johnson Center, #326, Meeting Room B
April 12, 2024, 01:30 PM to 03:30 PM


According to ample claims from music educators, persistence beyond a student’s initial enrollment in middle and high school music is a real problem in the U.S. (Kratus, 2007; Williams, 2007, 2011) and worldwide (Ng & Hartwig, 2011), making one-time enrollment metrics a misleading indicator of music’s popularity in schools. Additionally, various lines of evidence show that prolonged engagement with music is associated with positive developmental outcomes for adolescents (Elpus, 2013). My prior work (Tucker & Winsler, 2023) looking at persistence in music during the transition from 8th to 9th grade displayed that only 1 in 4 students persist during this time, and high academic achievers and students with disabilities were less likely to drop out of music during this transition. While this work provided valuable insight into music persistence, exploring differences in rates and predictors of persistence over a much larger time scale is the next step in this line of research. The current study built off prior work from the Miami School Readiness Project (MSRP; Alegrado, 2021; Alegrado & Winsler, 2020; Tucker & Winsler, 2023; Winsler et al., 2020) and prospectively followed a large (N = 10,973 music students), ethnically-diverse (58% Hispanic, 35% Black), low-income (79% in poverty) sample of adolescents from the beginning of middle school to the end of high school to better understand persistence in school music electives (band, chorus, orchestra, guitar) across all of secondary school (6th–12th grade). Multiple discrete-time maximum-likelihood survival analysis models (Allison, 1982) were run to identify the proportion of students that dropped out of (“did not survive”) music each grade (e.g., 6th to 7th, 7th to 8th, etc.), and how particular factors (predictors of persistence; e.g., gender, ethnicity, poverty status, prior academic achievement, etc.) increase or decrease the probability of dropping out of music in each grade. Results confirm the concerns of many music educators, providing evidence of persistence problems throughout middle and high school with more students leaving music (as opposed to staying) at each grade transition. For students that began enrolling in music in 6th grade, 51% have dropped out of music by 7th grade, and 82% have dropped out by 8th grade. When looking within high school (students in music in 9th grade, including late-joining music students that started enrolling in music after 6th grade),  57% of students drop out by 10th grade, 85% by 11th grade, and 95% drop out by 12th grade. High reading scores and attending an arts-focused school were always related to reduced odds of dropping out of music in middle and high school, while gender, ethnicity, giftedness, and ELL status were never related to music dropout. High GPA was linked to less dropout throughout middle school, unrelated to dropout in early high school, and then again predicted less dropout at the end of high school. Depth of family poverty was an indicator of increased odds of dropping out of music all the way through middle school, but only predicted music dropout in high school in 12th grade. Students with disabilities were less likely to drop out of music their senior year, but disability status was not linked to dropout in any other grade. Moving to a new school was related to higher music dropout rates in every single grade except for the final grade of high school. By better understanding what students and what grades present the biggest risk for no longer persisting in music in secondary school, researchers and educators will be able to utilize a more targeted approach to researching, and ultimately attempting to increase, student persistence in music across all of middle and high school.