Music Teachers Use 'American Idol' in Class

ByABC News
May 21, 2006, 5:13 PM

THIELLS, N.Y., May 21, 2006 — -- Thirty-five million people watch "American Idol" every week -- none more intently than Evan Tobias' fifth and sixth graders at Willow Grove Middle School in New York state.

Watched in living rooms across the country, the reality show that churns out new pop stars and sets ratings records is required viewing. And it turns out that "Idol" is also a smash hit in music class.

Tobias' students aren't watching to see who gets eliminated or whether Paula is speaking to Simon. They're learning how to analyze music.

"I don't think that I normally thought to include a reality TV show in the classroom," Tobias said. "But because this was directly related to music, and it was directly related to the issues that we'd been talking about, it made sense to bring it in."

In a recent survey done by the National Association for Music Education, 80 percent of music teachers said they are using the nation's number-one TV show to teach.

At Plainfield Elementary School in Nazareth, Pa., the second graders take turns playing contestants and judges.

"It gets them excited about music," said Sarah Wallace, music teacher at Plainfield Elementary. "I had record numbers this year in the chorus, and I'm sure that that has something to do with it."

There's also a practical consideration at work. At a time when music education budgets across the country are shrinking, a television show makes for an inexpensive teaching tool.

Just this year, 22 percent of school districts reported cutbacks in art and music instruction to make more time for reading, language arts, and math, according to the Center on Educational Policy.

"I think the concept of No Child Left Behind is certainly a good one," said John Mahlmann, executive director of the National Association for Music Education. "But because of the greater emphasis on math and science, and the testing that is embodied in that, too many of our parents and school administrators make it an either/or situation."

Tobias said most parents don't mind him bringing "Idol" into the classroom -- because so many of them are following along at home.

ABC News' Nancy Weiner originally reported this story for "World News Tonight."