Erosion of music instruction is the wrong direction, especially for non-traditional learners

The following letter was written by a parent of an East High Student to Carol Carstensen, President of the Madison School Board. The writer expresses concerns over the Sherman Middle School proposal to place curriculum band and orchestra classes in afterschool and the layoff Thursday of 8.55 FTE music teachers.
Based upon my review of the 05-06 MMSD budget, financial issues do not support the recent music educator layoffs and the curriculum change proposal at Sherman Middle School. It’s about values – community values for what our children learn in public school and what contributes positively to their achievement as learners.

I am writing to you as School Board President (and neighbor) because I am very disturbed about the impact on music education of several recent decisions affecting students of the MMSD . I write as the mother of an 11th grade student of color at East High for whom music performance education has been crucial. Without the solid, consistent music instruction and opportunities he has received for the last six years, I question where he would be right now.
I fear that music performance is sometimes viewed as an elite activity for already motivated students. For my son, it has been the primary area in which he could excel at school over the years while he struggled with regular academic classes. It was the break in the school day where he felt energized and motivated, part of a large team working toward excellence and specific identifiable goals. Over the years, band classes offered an opportunity to interact with a different group of highly motivated peers, to perform in public concerts that affirmed his sense of achievement, and to participate in challenging music trips. Because of his school day band experience, my son gets himself up and to school every Tuesday morn! ing at 6:30 a.m. to participate in Jazz Band before school starts. His band program is a source of joy, discipline, and motivation, as well as musical growth.

My only concern over the years has been the fact that there are not more students of color in the band and orchestra. If the School District is concerned about the achievement of students of color, it should look more closely at assuring that kids of color including ESL students get involved in band and orchestra during middle school or even earlier. Music performance offers such a different learning experience than traditional academic subjects, one that is needed for those students who struggle with traditional academics.
Instead, MMSD seems to be ignoring the current and future value of music performance education. I am appalled that 8.55 strings and music teachers are being laid off.
I am also baffled by Sherman Middle School’s plan to remove band and string performance education from the school day and make it an after-school activity through the so-called 8th hour plan. I can’t think of anything that will more quickly make music performance an activity of an elite set of students than removing it from the school day. It is my understanding that some middle schools are doing much better at recruiting students of color and ESL students for band than Sherman, yet it is my understanding that the Assistant District Superintendent has asserted that if Sherman’s experiment works, it will be the model for the District middle schools. I have to wonder where would our son be if he hadn’t had the refuge and challenge of band education throughout middle school.
Finally, I note that Sherman’s 8th hour plan, especially if spread elsewhere in the District, appears to violate PI 8 and DPI’s Standard J Music requirements.
“Music instruction including general music, vocal music, and instrumental music shall be available to all students in grades 7-12 and shall be taught by a licensed music teacher.”
Per DPI materials, any student electing such a course may not be denied access. Reoving instrumental music instruction from the mandatory school day, and offering it as an after-school activity competing with a variety of clubs, tutoring programs, and possible family obligations does not constitute compliance with these requirements.
It is my hope that the School Board will join the parents of current music students in viewing these issues as ones of major policy importance for the Board to re-evaluate.
Carol Rubin