by Hiram Jackson and Greg Brucker
About 30 years ago, Davis schools faced the biggest deficits on record up to that time. Significant cuts were made to the music program, and the school elementary music program was eliminated for three years. This occurred in the years just before Davis passed its first school parcel tax in 1984.
Once the elementary program was reinstated, it took another 10 years to restore the whole music program to its previous levels of participation and excellence. We are also faced with a similar decision in 2012 as to whether to continue funding for programs like elementary music. But in light of how much Davis families appreciate that music performance is an essential component of a basic education, this is a choice that you can make at the ballot box.
When musicians rehearse together to make a piece of music work, there is no attention given to social differences among individuals. In our society, music and performing arts have been a refuge where individuals from historically marginalized groups — based on economic class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, political views, physical differences, mental and emotional challenges, character and personality, and religious faith — have found public recognition and respect for their talent, inspiration and humanity.
In a school setting, students also find similar opportunities to connect with others through music programs. Because of social acceptance they gain by participating in a team activity, students enrolled in school music programs are less likely to be involved in bullying or discipline issues.
Students also develop relationships with the community through public performances. They learn that their rehearsals and practice give them the confidence and ability to perform for others. Through performance, students develop a positive public identity with their school. The community, both in Davis and beyond, more likely knows and recognizes the quality of Davis schools through public performances than by directly witnessing student class work.
Davis schools have an excellent music program. The Davis High School Music Department was one of nine schools in the country to be awarded as a GRAMMY Signature School. Although this award specifically honored the high school program, it reflected highly on the quality and breadth of the program that feeds the high school. Individual choir, band and orchestra groups from time to time receive equivalent recognition for their efforts.
The school music program has been reaching out to more students than ever before. Through donations, fundraising and grants, parents and music teachers have worked to acquire additional school instruments for students who need them. High school music students have been paired with beginning elementary musicians to tutor and mentor them through their first years, especially targeting students who wouldn’t otherwise take private lessons.
This has improved overall retention of students in the program. In the past four years, most of the growth in the music program participation has taken place in the elementary grades, which now totaling almost 1000 students in grades 4 – 6. With the passage of Measure C, those growing numbers would expand to the secondary grades.
Because of the nature of group performance, music classes can operate with more efficient staffing than most other subjects. A band, choir or orchestra class with 60-70 students is not unusual. However an English class with that many students is considered scandalous. Also, the more students who participate in the music program, the less a school district is burdened with spending on intervention programs.
Students who participate in music through the secondary grades are more likely to attend school regularly, to perform better in other academic classes, to graduate, and to go to college. They are less likely to be involved in drug abuse and other risky behavior.
As school districts make tough budgetary decisions, many choose to cut music programs because they are not assessed in standardized tests. If test scores in certain subjects don’t rise on schedule, then a school is defined as failing and the state and federal government step in to say how a school should be run.
But standardized testing measures a very narrow range of success and ability. They don’t measure how well students work together nor how well they perform in front of others. It doesn’t measure artistic and esthetic sensibilities nor does it measure creativity.
We live in a time when, more than ever, students need a creative outlet, artistic development, performance experience, social stability, and a positive model of teamwork, all of which music education provides. If Measure C doesn’t pass, over one half of the district music program will be cut, including all of the elementary program. We ask you to vote to renew funding for a great, accessible school music program. Vote Yes on Measure C, so that our children will have a great education that provides more than just achieving good test scores.
Hiram Jackson is a DJUSD parent; Greg Brucker is a DJUSD Music Teacher. Op-ed originally appeared in the Davis Enterprise, used by permission.