Previous Discussion Topics
Elimination of Elementary Music Education

January 4, 2001

My name is Ed Sowul and I am new to this list. I am president of the band booster association in the Milton Area School District in Milton PA.  We have recently been informed by our administrative team that the elementary instrumental music program is being eliminated next year.  As as advocate for the program, I am looking for suggestions from others who may have gone through this.  Many web-sites have been helpful, but I am hoping to get some personal experience.  I am planning on make a presentation to our school board on Jan. 16th. 

From Bill Tandy:

When that happened to us here several years ago, we put maximum effort into countering this proposal. Here are some of the things we did:

We formed an elementary committee to document how the music, art and PE were being delivered in each elementary school at each grade level. We documented teacher-student ratios and teacher time per student per week.  We found that music, art and PE teachers were being made to use their planning periods for travel between campuses and were being called on more than other teachers to supervise lunch periods and study halls.  We found that individual student exposure time to a music, art or PE teachers was nothing like what the administration presented to the public in the form of student-teacher ratios.  Similarly, students were not getting frequent enough exposure to teacher classroom instruction in each of those subjects to retain the lessons.

We looked at curriculum, equipment and instrumentation. Curriculum was not aligned with state standards. Equipment and instruments were in poor condition, poor quality, and disrepair. The number of pieces were not sufficient for the number of students scheduled. The types of equipment and instruments were different from one campus to another and most of it bore no relation to the curriculum standards and objectives.  We documented the age and condition of the equipment and instruments.

We documented the qualifications of the teachers that were on staff to deliver the music and art curriculum (this was unbelievably difficult to make the administration come up with). We compared those findings with state teacher certification requirements (which turned out not to be very simple). One of the things we found out was that the state permits school districts to circumvent many teacher qualification requirements with the use of "temporary" and "emergency" permits. School districts are also allowed to wait until Oct 1 to determine the official enrollment for the purposes of determining compliance with minimum student-teacher statutory ratios. But the administration can then take more time (I think it was another 90 days) applying to the State for waivers.

We had for several years kept in contact (as boosters) with elementary music and art teachers and supported capital improvement initiatives for their programs, so they were not strangers to Band Boosters. One of our members had previously formed a district-wide nonprofit K12 Fine Arts organization and many of these teachers and parents were active members and worked on broader issues.

Another thing we did was download a list of school districts in the state and carried out a statewide survey of "best practices" on different issues like instrument purchases, private music lessons, frequency and amount of student contact with teachers...

The High School music directors had instituted a vertical curriculum that spanned elementary arts through middle school grades and into high school.  Students in all elementary schools were on a vertical curriculum path that led into high school and the curriculum for each fine art subject at each grade level was the same in all schools. (Parity was a big issue at budget planning/approval time with the school board). One of the things that Boosters did to support the vertical curriculum was to provide subsidies for private music lessons starting after the 5th grade. 

The lessons were given on campus by private teachers picked, approved and supervised by the high school directors. The boosters collected and distributed the fees and scheduled the lessons.  Better than 80% of all grade 6-12 music students were taking weekly lessons through this program. Most of the other 20% were also in private lessons off campus.  But even those off-campus instructors were monitored by the directors.  They made sure that the instructors were teaching the scales, fingering, and other fundamentals that they wanted taught to all students.

Band Boosters were also organized across all three district high schools and our officers were in constant communication amongst ourselves. So when the school board met on any issue that affected any fine arts program, we could always arrange to have 25 or so parents and teachers from different schools and grade levels in attendance. Actually, we had to limit the number to 25 or so because we could have turned out 500 people if needed. We signed up parents and teachers to speak on the various "action items" at each school board meeting. We kept it all on a positive constructive reasoned unemotional basis. 

But the Board members were well aware of our presence without any theatrics needed.  We presented our findings orally and with handouts to the Board members.  Where the administration was proposing program cuts, we were proposing not only holding the line but expanding some areas like teachers, instruments and equipment.  We made sure that the newspaper reporters were there and that they received copies of handouts. And they covered the proceedings in the papers.

The music directors explained the vertical curriculum to the Board. It can be explained in terms that a School Board member can understand... if high school football coaches go down into the earliest PE grades, even out into Pop Warner and Little League and begin teaching the fundamentals of their high school football program years before a student gets to high school, their players are going to start the high school program already trained. All of them knowing the same plays, skills and techniques and everything they know will be relevant to the high school program. Its pretty good for recruiting too. Plus those middle school and high school students are going to be very competitive outside the district. etc. etc.

I'd say that you have to be organized as broadly as possible, have very fast and clear communications within and between the booster clubs, be vigilant, and steadfast over the long term. Its better than waiting until there is a perceived crisis and try to react. You respond with the amount of effort necessary to turn back the threat to your program and then you push for a little extra to be added back to the programs. Eventually, the Board, if not the Administration, learns its going to cost 'em if they fool with these programs.

Bill Tandy
Austin, TX

From Gail Ketchmark:

Our school district eliminated 5th grade band just as my son was completing 4th grade!  While he was disappointed initially, the school district created an alternative program which has proven to be successful.  Students entering 6th grade band complete three weeks of lessons at the beginning of the summer, receive 4 free lessons from high school band members, and then complete an additional two weeks at the end of the summer.  These lessons are from 1-2 hours per day, 5 days a week.  These students are entering 6th grade better prepared than those who complete an entire year of 5th grade band.

Many of the students continued to take private lessons that summer from the high school students, at $5 a lesson.  When they began the school year, they had the option of continuing with the high school student (although most weren't able to give lessons due to their hectic schedules), or seek private instruction from the list of instructors offered by the school.  

The school district maintains a regular music curriculum at the grade school level for all grades.  We have seen dramatic improvement in the junior high bands with this summer program, and it dovetails nicely with our summer band program for junior high students.  This program is held during the month of June, 5 days per week, culminating in a concert and two July 4th parades.

Hope this helps.

Gail Ketchmark
Oswego High School Band Boosters
Oswego, IL

From Terri Woltmon:

Ed -

Do whatever you have to do to stop it. Our district eliminated music in elementary grades when my son was in second grade. His first opportunity to play anything was seventh grade & I thank God he had a fantastic teacher. His was the only middle school with a music instructor full time (there were no students to feed the music program elsewhere). Now as a booster, I see the results. My son has said that a majority of our high school students cannot read music. I talked to his director & it's true. She has to rely on those who can to help her teach the music.  I can't believe we've cheated our kids this way.

In support, there was an article on the ABC News web a couple of months ago about the impact music has on students. If you can find it, it would be something the administrators need to hear.

- Terri Woltmon


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