The Public Survey Trap and Music Education

In his weekly advice on music advocacy, Dr. Benham, on talks about public surveys. Useful information can be gathered, but they can also be used to threaten the public or be used as a mandate from the public if referendums do not pass. the music advocate needs to keep music off the surveys. Dr. Benham writes,
“In the presence of a financial crisis one of the approaches used to inform the public of the seriousness of the situation is a Public Survey.
The survey may be used for a variety of reasons, some of which may need to be “read between the lines.”
* To inform the public of the financial crisis
* To inform the public of the need to raise taxes
* To establish a basis for a levy referendum to increase funding
* To inform (sometimes threaten) the public of probable cuts if additional finding is not increased
* To get a sense of what the public values most so that the cuts made cause the least negative reaction
One school district in which I worked mailed surveys to all employees and residents in the district. The survey listed 200 categories or programs within the district. The respondent was asked to rank each with a response of “A” (Most important to retain), “B” (Cut here first), or “C” (Save this if possible). After the district levy referendum failed the district mandated cuts in the music program that would have eliminated 70% of the orchestra staff and 48% of the band staff.
What actually occurred is that the results were summarily ignored, not even calculated. The administration proposed the music cuts based on their own educational philosophy and blamed the community for lack of support for music. The music parents requested permission to review the surveys and discovered the following.
* Of the 60,000 surveys distributed only 211 were returned
* Lack of participation by the community invalidated the survey, exposing the administrative action as self-serving
* Of the nine (9) music categories included on the list of 200 in the survey, music was ranked by the community as “most important to retain” on a basis equivalent with curricular status.
* Music categories outranked all extra-curricular activities as “most important to retain”
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