Guest Commentary: Measure C is About Saving School Music Programs

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school-musicby 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.

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24 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: Measure C is About Saving School Music Programs”

  1. medwoman

    Hpierce

    All votes are determined by the priorities of our values. Just as it is legitimate to discuss the ways in which our tax dollars might be better spent
    Such as how we might feel about compensation packages, it is equally legitimate to discuss what we stand to lose without Measure C. I value the benefits of our music and other threatened programs more than I fear teacher “overcompensation” and thus voted “yes”. Others will obviously feel differently. I do not feel that each side has the responsibility to provide a full discussion of the pros and cons. It is however their responsibility to present their side fully and honestly as I believe was done here.

  2. Mr.Toad

    Students who participate in music do better on average, in academic classes, than students who don’t. Music teaches discipline through practice, cognitive development through hand, vision and sound coordination, proprioception of spatial and timing senses.

    For all of these reasons music is an excellent discipline that can open opportunities for children who might not otherwise have that exposure. It can be an effective tool for narrowing the achievement gap.

    There are other things supported by measure C as well but music is surely an important component of the budget that will be effected if measure C fails. VOTE YES ON C!

  3. hpierce

    Mr Toad… it is my experience that the more talented students are drawn to music, as well. It is not clear to me whether the causality runs, “students who are involved in music perform better than they would have otherwise”, or “higher performing students are also drawn to music”.
    David … you are correct… the authors never used the word “all”… yet, their entire point was the music program.

  4. David M. Greenwald

    “yet, their entire point was the music program. “

    Isn’t that just a function of the need to emphasize more specific points in more detail given space limitations?

  5. hpierce

    Except for one letter to the editor in the Emptyprize, still haven’t seen any sign that classified staff, administrators, or teachers are willing to consider concessions other than those that would also reduce “service”… I’m making my final decision on the vote on Feb 29, as will my spouse and two adult children.

  6. hpierce

    [quote]Isn’t that just a function of the need to emphasize more specific points in more detail given space limitations? [/quote]OK… plan to have that “metric” used when you challenge someone. BTW, the “headline” reads…. [quote]Measure C is About Saving School Music Programs[/quote]…

  7. hpierce

    Do they once talk about reducing other programs? English? Foreign language (also has high correlation to better student performance)? Math? Social Science? Physical sciences?

  8. hpierce

    [quote]So you think that the school district should cut back on academic programs so that taxpayers can pay a few dollars less each year? [/quote]WOW! I didn’t say anything resembling that! YOU said that they didn’t say that it was “all” about music. I responded that they pretty much ONLY talked about the music program. As if it was sacrosanct. Their argument would have had more resonance if they said something along lines of “music, like social studies, foreign language, math, physical sciences, etc., benefit from the “renewal” of this levy”. They didn’t. The article appears to be written by a parent with a child in a music program (who either is unwilling or unable to pay for music lessons), and a music teacher who is concerned about his future employment.
    It appears that a writer of a letter to the editor the other night is correct. Anyone who doesn’t 100% support the levy is righteously vilified.

  9. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]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. [/quote]

    This is very much a part of the problem. Once you lose programs, it takes so much time, effort and cost to reinstate them…

    All three of my children were in the music program in the Davis schools. Some music teachers were better than others, but in general it was a good program that had a lot of value for my children…

  10. K.Smith

    “The article appears to be written by a parent with a child in a music program (who either is unwilling or unable to pay for music lessons), and a music teacher who is concerned about his future employment.”

    Having music lessons is a completely different experience from playing in a band. You can be willing and able to pay for all of the music lessons you want, but that does not re-create the experience of working with others in this type of learning environment.

  11. wdf1

    hpierce: [i]Helpful to know that the measure is all about music… helps inform my vote.[/i]

    If you want to read about other things that would be supported by Measure C, there are articles about athletics ([url]http://www.davisenterprise.com/sports/blue-devils/athletics-could-be-devastated-if-measure-c-fails/[/url]), library services ([url]http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/schools-news/school-librarian-cultivates-a-love-of-reading/[/url]), and elementary science ([url]http://www.davisenterprise.com/opinion/opinion-columns/elementary-science-offers-a-necessary-foundation/[/url]). You can also read the ballot information to find information about additional programs.

  12. Ryan Kelly

    It easy to raise funds for Music programs. It is much harder to hold fundraisers for math, social studies, English, etc., which are really where students need to excel if they hope to go to college or get a job. I’ve already voted, so stop with the emotional heart-tugging.

  13. H Jackson

    hpierce: “The article appears to be written by a parent with a child in a music program (who either is unwilling or unable to pay for music lessons), and a music teacher who is concerned about his future employment.”

    My child already takes lessons. As K. Smith describes above, there is more to the school music program than a cheap substitute for lessons. If Davis schools did away with their music program, I might enroll my child in the Sacramento Youth Symphony, to the tune of $800-$1000 annually. Not everyone would want or be able to do this. Also, the Sacramento Youth Symphony groups rehearse only once/week. At the secondary level, music groups meet daily. I value that because my child makes friends and connections in the place where he goes to school. From my perspective, it makes schools a more desirable and friendlier place for kids.

    I asked Mr. Brucker to write this article with me because as a music teacher he has a front-seat view as to what goes on in a school music class. He has personally seen many instances where students have benefited in the ways described above. I also think he is very good at what he does.

  14. H Jackson

    Ryan Kelly: “It easy to raise funds for Music programs.”

    If that were true, then there would be more music programs in California schools. These days it is becoming a rarity.

    Ryan Kelly: “math, social studies, English, etc., which are really where students need to excel if they hope to go to college or get a job.”

    If you value those subjects only for their content, then you are probably correct. Those subjects are clearly more important than being able to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. But I think the processes behind performing music in a school group is a more important experience, probably, than math, social studies, or English. Those latter subjects are typically taught and assessed on an individual basis. Music performance in the school programs requires committing to work with classmates. If the California State legislature were required to meet for music rehearsal for an hour every day before meeting in session, I bet they would be more productive with their legislative work.

    The school music program also involves a commitment by the students to perform their work in public. No one goes to watch students take tests in math, social studies or English.

    The ability to work with others and wanting to perform well in public are probably as fundamental job and career skills as anything else a student could acquire.

  15. H Jackson

    Mr. Toad: “For all of these reasons music is an excellent discipline that can open opportunities for children who might not otherwise have that exposure. It can be an effective tool for narrowing the achievement gap.”

    This 60 Minutes clip describes a music program in Venezuela that does that.

    [url]http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=4011959n[/url]

    It sucks that a second world country seems to have a clearer vision for the value of music education than we do.

  16. H Jackson

    An announcement of a DHS Symphony Orchestra Family concert this Saturday at the Brunelle Auditorium of the HS. This is possible because the district has sustained its music program.

    [url]http://www.davisenterprise.com/entertainment/music/davis-high-to-host-performance-with-orchestra-puppets/[/url]

    Today and Friday are daytime concerts of the production scheduled for elementary classes who sign up in advance to attend. The school day productions are free of charge to students. To elementary students who attend, this is often their first opportunity to set foot at the high school, and it is lucky that it is a generally happy, positive impression.

    Another example of how music performance connects students and the community.

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