Gather up a group of eighth-graders, pop in a CD of George Gershwin’s seminal Rhapsody in Blue and turn up the volume. Then ask: In those first few seconds, what keening, soaring, note-bending instrument do you hear?
When the federal government put this question to thousands of eighth-graders in 1997, only about half knew it was a clarinet. When they tried again last year, the results were the same.
New data out today from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, may make America’s arts instructors kind of blue: In the past decade or so, middle-schoolers have made little progress in how much they know about music and visual arts.