Defense of the Arts

Defense of the Arts Presentation
-John Gardner to the HCCSC School Board
-1996

In 1996, the Huntington County Community School Corporation was considering some drastic cuts to the Music Education program in the county, including elimination of instrumental music in the elementary schools, band in middle schools only every other day, reassignment of music teachers to teach “Life Skills” and cover the lunchrooms during lunch, budget reductions and more.

The high school directors had made a proposal to the board that would enable them to continue elementary music, but that program was rejected.

NOTE that is was 1996 and much has changed since then. In 1996 we PREDICTED the changes would hurt the program. The Marching Band has been reduced by 50+ members since then. The choir program has combined the Chamber Singers and Varsity Singers. There was a different superintendent, and the community had JUST voted to go from appointed to an elected school board. This particular meeting was held in the HN Cafeteria and over a hundred teachers and interested parties were there to voice displeasure. That may have influenced some of the applause and support of what some thought was an attack against the board.

I was not teaching in 1996. As the then current President of the HNHS Band Boosters, I made the following presentation to the board as my final BPO action. (Transcript)

—————

Good evening. My name is John Gardner and, until tomorrow evening when we install new officers, I am the President of the Band Parents Organization, which we consider to represent the parents of the 595 students currently enrolled in instrumental music in Huntington County.

Every year, for the past 20 years, there has been an average of 155 new students in beginning band. Parents of those beginners spend $112,000 for instruments alone, and that’s just the beginning. And if I may use them tonight as an excellent audio-visual, those outfits you just saw on the Varsity Singers require a significant parental commitment every year. How many other organizations are there that involve that many students and parents where you can ask for that kind of commitment AND GET IT?

Do you realize how many PARENTS it takes to get the “Marching Vikes” on and off the football field, or to get the Varsity Singers to put on their competitive show?

A recent Northern Exposure, the newsletter to parents published by the award-winning, (but recently axed) News Bureau here at the high school, asked for parental involvement. Well, WE’RE HERE. And so, I hope you understand that when committed parents perceive changes that negatively impact our children’s programs, being considered, discussed, implemented, or ignored; we are compelled to be here. I understand the decision to allow us a place on your busy agenda is Dr. Spaulding’s, and for that I say thank you and will not abuse that privilege by staying up here too long.

Every board member, the superintendent, and all building principals have received a copy of a unanimously passed resolution indicating and explaining our concerns. I won’t bog you down with handouts, but do have supporting documentation for everything I’m going to share with you, and when I speak personally, I am doing so as both a band parent and varsity singer parent. I have also been trained and do have experience as a music educator.

Some of our concerns are being addressed already. I’m happy to say that as recently as Tuesday of last week, we became aware of adjustments made by building principals that will help our teachers teach more effectively at the beginning level.

A main concern was what we understood would be beginning band meeting “ONLY” every other day in the middle school instead of every day in the elementary schools. Two of our three middle schools have now accommodated their building band directors so that there will be beginning band meeting every day. We appreciate that. Also, we understand that the large classes that were anticipated have been divided into smaller groups, which will be helpful, but we would like to see the three buildings have comparable settings; so that the students coming into the high school will have been similarly trained. We don’t want equity at the expense of the buildings where beginning band will meet daily.

With the completion of the transition from Jr. High to Middle School and K-5 elementary schools, the band directors’ contact with elementary students will be eliminated. The band directors made a united proposal to start band in the elementary buildings because:

1. students would meet in smaller groups – easier to teach. Beginning band instruction requires a lot of one by one individualized instruction which is hard to do in larger groups. You demonstrate support for small class size in the early elementary for teaching the fundamentals of English, Math, etc. We think you should consider the class size for beginning music instruction the same way.

2. it is easier to recruit in the elementary level. It is still cool to be in band in elementary school. There are fewer distractions and conflicts. In their proposal, your band directors arranged their schedules so that between them, they could meet every other day with 5th grade band without hiring new music staff. We think that would be a much better use of their professional training than to have band directors teaching Life Skills (whatever that is) or supervising the lunchroom.

When Roanoke School receives an honor and has the State Superintendent on site, somebody asks the band to play. But after this year, there will be no elementary school bands.

Statistics indicate that elimination of elementary vocal, or instrumental music leads to an eventual 65 to 70% reduction in participation at the secondary levels. Those students will need to be taught in smaller, more expensive non-music classes.

Another concern is the sharing of students who want to be in both band and choir at the middle school level. When a band or choir director is preparing for performance, what is he supposed to do on those days when half the group is gone? Rehearsing ensembles requires balancing sound, making minor adjustments, and working on details daily. All changes or instructions must be repeated for the group that was out yesterday. That is inefficient education. The basketball coach would say you’re wrecking his team if he couldn’t keep them together for practice. The drama teacher would be hard pressed to have play practice with half the cast missing. What would happen in any academic class where half the students were missing every other day? By the time that “half-time student” reaches the high school, he has 1½ years less experience in BOTH band and choir. Reducing instructional time will bring down the quality level of the performing arts groups here.

But you’ll still expect the directors to STRIKE UP THE BAND at the basketball games, at every parade in the county, at all the home football games, and even for the homecoming parade. At graduation you want them to look and sound good. So do we.

The Performing Arts at the high school have already been negatively impacted by block scheduling, which is not a friend of the arts. We feel like you may be looking ONLY at the balance sheets instead of the total quality of education.

And, so that I don’t come across as a bumbling band parent, I want to include some of what the professionals say:

Allan Miller, a professor of education at Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas, writes that “some modern educators have forgotten the call of the founder of our American school system, Horace Mann, who believed that music was essential to the education of the young for the development of aesthetic appreciation, citizenship, and thinking.” He goes on to say, “It is impossible to master a band instrument without considerable discipline and many hours of practice. Informed school boards and administrators know this, and so work to protect their school music programs.”

According to a Gallup Survey, 71% of adults agree that music education should be mandated by the states to ensure every child has an opportunity to study music in school. A high percentage of participants in instrumental music programs go on to pursue professional careers other than music and later credit disciplines learned in instrumental music with giving them the impetus for their achievement. An example:

On April 13th of this year, your education President Clinton said in a speech, “Music, to me, was – is – representative of everything I like most in life. It’s beautiful and fun, but very rigorous. If you wanted to be good, you had to work like crazy. It was a real relationship between effort and reward. My musical life experiences were just as important to me, in terms of forming my development, as my political experiences or my academic life.”

Robert Wentz, superintendent of public instruction for the Nevada State Department of Public Instruction, in a speech entitled, “Music Is Basic,” said: “Music students learn about the cost of sacrifice necessary for accomplishment. They learn of the cost of loyalty and responsibility to a group. They learn of the tremendous self-discipline and cooperation required to be a member of any large and successful ensemble. They learn of pride in accomplishment and develop a self-esteem that flows over into home, work, and treatment of others.”

Richard Riley, U.S. Secretary of Education, says “There are very tangible and measurable benefits to education and academic success that come from learning about, and participating in the arts and music. One study showed that preschoolers who took keyboard lessons and joined in group singing scored higher on tests measuring spatial reasoning and develop better abstract reasoning than those who did not – activities that are of critical importance in later development of math, science and engineering skills. The good news is that more and more people are beginning to understand this very positive relationship between the arts and learning.

And from one of your own, a school board member! Joan Schmidt, Director of the National School Boards Association says, “The word is out: Researchers have discovered a way to make kids smarter. And savvy parents are signing their children up for private piano lessons while school boards debate the role of music in the public school curriculum.” And then, after describing some of the specific research, she goes on to write: “Perhaps it is time for school boards everywhere to step back from the battles over funding, test scores and curriculum, to look at the big picture and then redefine the terms of the debate over education policy. If we mean business about improving student achievement, we must rise above political pressures, above petty power struggles, and pay close attention to what the researchers are telling us. Because their message about music and learning truly resonates.”

We feel that when you allow elementary music teachers to retire without replacing them, when you allow music teachers to be assigned responsibilities totally outside their professional training, and when you allow the total elimination of instrumental music at the elementary level, that you are not being friendly to the arts and you will cause a reduction in the numbers of students involved in the programs. Some of you are band parents. Consider your child’s band experience.

(Interrupted by Applause)

John Benham, has done a lot of research on the “Reverse Economics” of arts reduction. Music teachers have larger student loads than regular classroom teachers, about 1.33. That means 3 music teachers handle the load of 4 classroom teachers. So anything that reduces participation in music will increase the number of other staff needed to handle the load. One school system was cutting 5 music teachers to save $156,000, until they discovered it would cost $192,000 to hire staff to teach the additional classes those students would be switching to.

Physician and biologist Lewis Thomas studied the undergraduate majors of medical school applicants and found that 66% of music majors who applied to medical school were admitted, the highest percentage of any group. 44% of biochemistry majors were admitted.

The College Entrance Examination Board in their profiles of students who took the SAT test, showed that students who studied the arts more than four years were 59 points higher on the verbal and 44 points higher on the math portion than students with no course work or experience in the arts. Want to raise test scores? Then expand the arts, don’t cut them.

A large New York accounting firm interviews about 40 students every year. Of the ten they recently hired, four had a minor in the arts. The latter fact so significantly set these candidates apart from the others in terms of creative thinking, flexibility, and presentation that the firm is now using the arts minor as a screening criterion.

Studies show that, for your commitment to the arts, you get students with higher IQ’s, who have better attendance, better grades, better attitudes, who are more respectful, cooperative, and successful. You don’t see many band or choir students in your discipline offices. You find a high percentage of them on your Honor Rolls, and a high percentage of your Honor Roll students are in the arts.

(Interrupted by Applause)

If we were to ask all the teachers in this room how many of them were involved in band or choir, you’d probably see a high percentage of hands, and research shows that part of their success can be attributed to those experiences.

The Performing Arts offer some of the best examples of Cooperative Learning. Have you watched the Varsity Singers perform their Show Choir routine? As they do their intricate and intense choreography, they perform as a unit, not as individuals. The same goes for a marching band drill, where you have 150 people on the team. Members learn how to work together even with people they may not otherwise be around. They learn chain of command; whether it is through section leaders, dance captains, drum majors, or student teachers.

Performance-Based Education! We love hearing about the successful competitive year the Varsity Singers recently completed. We’re proud that the band can get a Superior Rating at Regional competition. If you want to experience a great example of performance-based education, visit a Show Choir or Marching Band competition, or attend a concert.

Reduce the opportunity to be in the performing arts and:

You’ll have to increase staff elsewhere.

You’ll have to hire additional staff to work with more expensive smaller classes.

You’ll have more kids with more free time and nothing constructive to do.

You’ll have more kids in more trouble – more discipline staff.

You’ll have increased teacher turnover due to higher stress and frustration.

You’ll have higher vandalism requiring more maintenance staff and supplies.

The community will have to hire more police; and that means higher taxes.

Can we afford NOT to have the arts?

In closing, here’s what we, the parents of students in the vocal and instrumental programs, hope to impress on you:

We do not want you to make reductions in staff, in time, or in any way to the performing arts programs.

We want you to encourage all three middle school buildings to offer 6th grade band on a daily basis.

We want you to consider, or reconsider, the band director’s proposal to begin instrumental music at the elementary school level.

And we want you to remember, you work for us! And now, we will hold you individually accountable.

(Applause / Standing Ovation)

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