Sherman Middle School Principal Mandates Change by Fiat – Renames Afterschool an 8th hour and Kicks Academic Performance Music Out to Afterschool

The current music education upheaval at Sherman Middle School is about

  • what Madison values for our children’s education, such as academic music education during the school day and
  • who makes those decisions.

It is not about money, because teacher allocations will be needed to teach the 8th hour same as during the school day.
Making changes that seem to be by fiat may be desirable to the person in charge, but the students and parents are the school’s and district’s customers – please listen to us at the start of a process, let us have time to have meaningful input and comment! Isn’t it the School board who are the district’s policymakers, especially curriculum policy and what defines a school day. Those are the basics! A longer school day might make sense – but not by what appears and feels like fiat and not without public discussions, deliberations and decisions by our School Board.

The Madison School Board, not a principal, is responsible for making the value decisions about what Madison’s children learn and the length of a school day. Our school board is given this responsibility by the State of WI constitution and by the public who elect members to a local board. In the case of the issues at Sherman Middle School, the School Board is currently not part of the process; they are definitely not the policymakers and decisionmakers in this important change – but they need to be, because this affects learning for all Madison’s children.
For music education, WI state law requires that a local school board approve a sequential, K-12 curriculum plan for music instruction. Madison’s School Board has approved a district-wide curriculum plan for music education with standards that meets state requirements. School boards don’t write the educational plans, but they are required by law to approve them and board members need to be sure these plans are developed with input from appropriate professionals and community members – teachers, music professionals in Madison, administrators, parents. Once the curriculum plan is approved, our district-wide and school administrators need to follow that curriculum as teachers develop classes to meet the curriculum. A school principal mandating that children take General Music at Sherman Middle School does not meet district curriculum standards and does not comply with state law.
Other middle schools in Madison with high numbers of low income and minority populations are devising ways to grow and to have strong performance music classes during the day (for example, Sennett, Jefferson, Hamilton, Cherokee). Why should Sherman Middle School’s children have less equitable access to this beneficial academic subject? A principal needs to work on addressing problems that face his/her school while complying with School Board directives. Why didn’t the Sherman principal form a team of parents, elementary and high school music teachers to determine what the barriers are to higher participation in performance music in Sherman Middle School and develop options for discussion and review at the school level? Isn’t that what we want our principals to be doing when they run into a challenge? In the case of music education, put children’s learning in music education first and pull together a team that includes, not excludes parents, from the process to tackle issues facing Sherman and develop options. Why didn’t a school team approach the challenge from how do we make this work for our children?
The continued deterioration of music education in Madison’s schools is not about money. Academic music education classes are cost effective and positively benefit children’s learning in so many areas, including the core academics. The entire K-12 MMSD music education program, including performance music that begins in Grade 4, costs less than $250 per student and nearly 20,000 students participate in music education districtwide. Compare that to $350+ per participant spent on high school extracurricular sports and $600 per student spent on the district’s administrative contract budget. If you had seen any of the wonderful music performances this spring, including the citywide strings festival, you would know that the Madison community is getting a huge bang for its buck and that our children worked very hard.
If we need to make changes, let’s work together for our children. Our School Board makes the decisions on our behalf about what our children learn. They must make these decisions in open meetings following processes that engage teachers, administrators, students and the community in order to make the best decisions for our children’s learning. That’s their responsibility.