Music Education – Learn About the Benefits Before Cutting Curriculum

If there is no money, cut arts education is the decisions administrators make – often, though, without first looking at the impact on student’s achievement (using readily available data) or without consideration of the impact on who will stay/leave a school. Couldn’t decisions made in the absence of examining data and listening to parents cost far more in lost revenue and prestige than the cost of a class?
When I read about the cuts to music education at the elementary school level, the primary reasons given are that these cuts were due to budget constraints and pull-out programs are difficult to schedule. When I read about the cuts to Sherman Middle School’s vocal and instrumental music program from the regular school day, the primary reasons given are lack of interest (decline in enrollment during the past several years coincidentally matches the current principal’s tenure) and the principal’s requirement for heterogenous classes and mandated exploratory options for Sherman’s children.
Yet, when I read the national news, research and hundreds of other documents I learn that a) music improves children’s peer relationships and academic performance in schools and b) schools with a signficant low income student body that increase their arts education see significant increases in these children’s test scores.

I am concerned that Madison’s budget cut decisions and the adoption of “new” models of education that make access to meaningful sequentially developed music classes difficult or impossible are being made without better information about the benefits to Madison school children’s learning from fine arts education. We know parents will move (and some are moving and/or making plans to move their children out of Sherman Middle School following the principal’s spring mandates) to those schools that offer rigorous academics, foreign language, music and art classes.
What do we know about the effect of cuts to music and art courses on our children’s success in school, their interest in learning and improved test scores? What analysis is done, data reviewed, prior to making such major curricular decisions? What options are explored? How are teachers and professionals in the community involved in these decisions?
I’d like to see our Board ask some of these questions. I’d like to see more public discussions of these changes before they are made. Madison schools have a history of music and art classes as part of our children’s public education. Before we cut these programs further, we owe it to our children to better understand the positive impacts on their learning from music and art classes. It costs much more money and effort to start all over.
My sense from talking with administrators is that if I have to make a choice between reading and art, I’ll choose reading. Sounds sensible enough unless we learn that those art classes were in fact making a positive contribution to a child’s ability to read. Current administrators, feeling stressed from budget cut decisions, are falling into the traditional role of keep the basics, cut everything else. The Board and the community needs to help them look beyond that and ask them to explore the data a bit more for our kids’ sakes.
There may also be implications for the school district’s ability to continue to attract a wide variety of students to its school system, a subject that will wait for another blog.