Music educators, convinced that music offers a uniquely enriching dimension of living, agree that every student has a right to an education in music.
But, they say, this right is often impeded by the emphasis upon musical performance at assembly programs, football games, and concerts - the means by which parents and the public (and sometimes the principal and other teachers) most often judge the calibre of a school's music-education program.
Too strong a concentration upon performance ignores the large number of students who have never studied an instrument, sung in a choral group, or performed with a band or orchestra. Referring to a 1979 survey of students aged 9, 13, and 17 that revealed the high percentage of students without performing experience, Dr. Richard Graham of the University of Georgia, concluded, ''This shows . . . a clear need for additional music education opportunities in the nation's high schools - opportunities that are as attractive as our performing groups, but which may not require extensive performing skills.''
Such opportunities include composing, dancing, music history, relating music to other art forms, and experiencing the beauty and variety of musical sounds.
The goals of music education programs, according to 100 music teachers from New York state, are ''enjoyment'' and ''cultural enrichment.'' They place third priority on proficiency in performance, and after that they name in declining order: character development; public performance; understanding of form, structure, and aesthetics; training for music as a career; and festival competition.
No agreement exists on the best method of reaching these goals. Some school music teaching stresses sight-reading and solmization (the use of musical syllables, do-re-mi and so forth); other schools emphasize rhythmic development and coordination, often employing rote-learning techniques. Most teachers welcome visits by professional musicians, attendance at symphony concerts, and other community resources that enhance music appreciation.
More serious than the debate over methods is the general assessment that school music programs are weaker now than they were 15 years ago. Many school systems have cut music-teaching positions, apparently as a result of budget paring, declining school enrollments, the back-to-basics movement that regards the arts as frills, and the diversity of interest groups within the music profession itself.
This professional crisis has alerted music educators to the necessity of making sure that school music-education programs establish clearly defined goals , appropriate methods for reaching them, proper evaluation procedures, and more public understanding and support.