Other districts facing fiscal and academic achievement challenges have had successes maintaining and growing their fine arts education – through strategic planning, active engagement and real partnerships with their communities. In Tuscon, AZ, with a large low income and hispanic population, test scores of this population have climbed measurably (independent evaluations confirmed this). This state has received more than $1 million in federal funding for their fine arts education work. School districts in Chicago, New York, Texas and Minneapolis have also done some remarkable work in this area.
In my opinion, the administration’s music education work products and planning efforts this year are unsatisfactory, unimaginative and incomplete. In spite of research that continues to demonstrate the positive effects on student achievement (especially for low income students) and the high value the Madison community places on fine arts, the administration continues to put forth incomplete proposals that will short change all students, especially our low-income students, and the administration does its work “behind closed doors.”
Three or four weeks ago, I spoke at a board meeting and said I thought we needed to do things differently this year – Shwaw Vang and other board members supported my idea of working together to solve issues surrounding elementary strings. Apparently, the administration saw things differently. Since my public appearance the Superintendent has issued two reports – one eliminating elementary strings replacing K-5 music with a “new, improved” idea for K-5 music and a second report with enrollment data presented incompletely with an anti-elementary strings bias. Teachers had no idea this proposal or data were forthcoming, saw no drafts, and they did not receive copies of statistics relevant to their field that was sent last week to the School Board. Neither did the public or the entire School Board know these reports were planned and underway. During the past 12 months, there were no lists of fine arts education priorities developed and shared, no plans to address priorities, processes, timelines, staff/community involvement, etc. String teachers received no curriculum support to adjust to teaching a two-year curriculum in 1/2 the instructional time even though they asked for this help from the Doyle building, and they never received information about the plans for recreating elementary strings in the future. None.
I don’t feel the Superintendent proceeded in the manner expressed to me by Mr. Vang nor as demonstrated by the School Board’s establishment of community task forces over this past year on a number of important issues to the community. Madison’s love of fine arts lends itself well to a community advisory committee. I hope other Board members support Mr. Vang’s community team approach, rejecting the Superintendent’s recent music proposal as incomplete and unacceptable.
In his fifth year of proposals to eliminate elementary strings, the Superintendent is proposing a “new and improved” K-5 music that is not planned for another year, but requires elimination of Grade 4 strings next year. The recent proposal, once again, was developed by administrators without any meaningful involvement of teachers and no involvement of the community. Elementary strings and fine arts education are important to the community. The Superintendent did not use a process that was transparent, well planned with a timeline, open and involved the community.
Music education, including elementary string instruction, is beneficial to a child’s developing, learning and engagement in school. However, music education, also directly supports and reinforces learning in math and reading. Instrument instruction does this at a higher level and that’s one of the reasons why MMSD’s music education curriculum introduces strings in Grade 4, following a sequence of increasing challenges in music education. In fact, all the points made in the Superintendent’s “new” K-5 music program, including multicultural experiences, exist in MMSD’s current music curriculum. The only thing “new” in the Superintendent’s proposal is the elimination of elementary strings.
It is not acceptable to say that we have to do something, because we have to cut money. Also, this is not about some folks being able to “yell” louder than others. To me, this is about five years that have been wasted – no planning, no community involvement, no shared visions. Our kids deserve better. Let’s get started on a new path working together now.
Continue reading Fifth Verse – Same, Sorrowful Tune: Superintendent Proposes to Elminate Elementary Strings