Rationale and Benefits
Parental Involvement. Most parents attend their childrens’ musical performances. (Ms. Wiebener says on the order of 98%. Even if that were to prove to be an overly optimistic estimate intuitively one would expect the precise numbers to be very high.) As the program is now run parents are required to monitor and report their elementary school children’s time practicing their instruments at home. (This is supposed to be between 20 and 30 minutes five days a week – thereby tying into the notion of parental involvement through District standards for homework, another possible ends policy). So a music ends policy could be tied in with our high priority parental involvement program.
Relation to literacy and math ends policies. There is data to show a correlation between music performance and academic achievement in literacy and math. As H. D. Hoover says, “a correlation is not a cause.” It may be that students who would do well academically anyway have a propensity to select music as an activity. But Ms. Wiebener relays anecdotal incidents of low income students with poor academic records substantially improving their academic performance after participation in performance music. And there are at least assertions in the literature that the academics-music connection is causal as well as a correlation. There is also some literature relating exposure to music and early brain development. Performing music requires, in effect, learning another “language of symbols.” Hopefully, one would support any aspect of the arts for its own sake. But for us there is this added benefit, and rationale, of music’s support of our pre-existing academic ends.
Additional student benefits. Of less direct relation to academic achievement, but also worth it in their own right are such benefits as self-discipline, focus, the experience of working with a group, a sense of responsibility for and control over that group’s success, the boost to self-esteem from the interest and praise of parents, and more interest in school generally.
Community support and national reputation. The ICCSD high school performance music program has exceptional levels of participation by students and support from parents and the community – not to mention state and national recognition. For any who follow the Board’s creation of “ends” there may well be some expectation that such a prominent element of our District would warrant an ends policy. Although there is always a measure of jealousy among programs competing for dollars and students, none of our District’s stakeholders should be too surprised at our giving performance music some priority. Finally, to the extent we are interested in enhancing our District’s national reputation, it makes sense to play to our strengths.
Resources and Low Income Participation
This Board seems to be relatively united in a desire to insure that our District offer all its students quality educational opportunity.
To what extent is performance music elitist? Something outside the financial ability of some students’ parents? Something involving a stigma for those unable to buy their own instruments and travel to Europe?
Ms. Wiebener assures me these are not concerns. The program and instruments are available to all at no cost. The secondary schools even have funds available to provide for students who do not have the money for such things as concert dress. There is no stigma because nobody knows who among the performing students is playing a school instrument and who is not. And there are fund-raising activities available to students that enable them to raise the entire cost of a trip, including those to Europe.
Here are some more of the basics.
At the present time roughly 40% of our fourth, fifth and sixth graders participate in performance music. (Choral music is a regular part of the elementary curriculum.) The percentages vary among elementary schools. Apparently Lemme Elementary has enjoyed especially high levels of participation.
Only strings are offered in the fourth grade. Fifth and sixth grade offers strings and band. (Thus, the 40% in fourth grade becomes about 25% strings and 15% band in fifth and sixth grade.)
Lessons/rehearsals are offered 25 minutes a week in each school. Ideally, they would be organized so that each session would be limited to students playing the same instrument. More often they now involve a variety of instruments with some down time for individual students during the 25 minutes. One music teacher may have 170 students in five schools. There is also an after school band program for fifth and sixth graders for one hour, one afternoon a week.
Most students use rented instruments. Rental runs about $30 a month. (New instruments now cost about $750 to $4000 for strings and $1500-1800 for most band instruments.) It is my impression that the District has sufficient instruments that students who are unable to buy or rent can be provided instruments owned by the school. In the case of bulky instruments (e.g., bass, cello, tuba) the student may keep a school’s instrument at home to practice and use another at school. Thus, there is the possibility that we are – at least for now – offering a performance music program potentially open to all.
I would like to see the numbers on levels of participation by low income students, but Ms. Wiebener believes they are relatively high in the elementary school.
There are at least three reasons for looking at the cost of this program. (1) It needs to be run as efficiently as any other. It needs to look for outside support as much or more as any other. (2) To the extent it involves a significant financial commitment from the District that is one more reason for recognizing it with an ends policy.
(3) The District’s financial commitment to this program, as with most, is primarily in salaries. At our usual $50,000 figure for these purposes, the 21 persons involved would constitute a $1.1 million cost. Some share of the cost of building and maintaining the auditoriums and music practice rooms is also involved. The replacement and repair budgets are $25,000 and $35,000 respectively. There is some income from ticket sales for performances. The contributions from the Music Auxiliary parents go primarily to bus trips and entry fees. Parents able to afford it are, in effect, contributing their children’s instrument costs. Occasionally instruments are given to the District for school use.
Does the District have the staff, instruments and other resources necessary to expand our performance music program still further?
That’s an issue. Unlike the possibilities we have discussed regarding reading (i.e., the virtually no-cost solutions of merely allocating more of an elementary teacher’s time to reading, rather than adding staff) increases in the performing music program – so far as my limited imagination has come up with so far – would require additional staff and the associated costs. Instruments and access to music rooms in schools is, I gather, less of a problem in terms of budget.
Proposed Performance Music Ends Policy
It’s premature to draft precise language – especially if the Board, for whatever reason, is disinclined to pursue a music ends policy.
But the current idea is that the focus would be on (a) performance music, (b) in the elementary grades.
Is it possible to come up with an objective measure of students’ level of performance? If so, should annual increases in those levels be a part of the ends policy – as with literacy and math? Perhaps. But we can start without it and move to performance standards later – if we want, and if staff says it’s possible.
What could we do shy of that? We could simply try to increase the number of students participating. That is, we could establish an ends policy involving both (1) an annual increase in the percentage of fourth graders entering the program, and, since retention apparently is something of a challenge, (2) the percentage of those students still in the program when they leave sixth grade. (There may be some lessons from Lemme in how schools might go about reaching such goals.)
Some FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Why emphasize performance music over “music appreciation”?
Because of the benefits mentioned above, which are not as likely to flow from programs that involve relative passivity rather than performance.Why focus on the elementary grades rather than high school?
Because that is where the musical ability is first developed and the source of those who continue to perform in high school. It’s not impossible for a student to start with performance music in secondary school, but it’s less likely.Why focus on performance music over the arts generally?
Because some of the programs, such as dance, drama and debate, aren’t available in the elementary schools. Because some, such as the visual arts and choral music, are already a part of the curriculum. Because, while all the arts are valuable in their own right there is more research involving the relationship of music performance to academic achievement generally.If music performance is so darned important why not just make it a required part of the curriculum?
It’s possible we should. But before doing that we need to address the possible self-defeating consequences of doing so. One of the attractions of elementary school performance music programs today is that the desire and enthusiasm youngsters bring to them, the support they engender in parents, may relate in some measure to the fact that they are selected, they are something special, rather than required.