Home > Uncategorized > HS Music a Victim of Small HS Movement, Charters, NCLB… and $$$

HS Music a Victim of Small HS Movement, Charters, NCLB… and $$$

May 14, 2018

As one who enjoys performing in community musicals, singing in choral gross, and playing guitar in ad hoc pick up groups, I was disheartened to read about the decline of high school bands in yesterday’s NYTimes. Times writers Sam Bloch and Kate Taylor’s article on the state of music programs in NYC schools attributes the decline to three factors: the decision to break large comprehensive HSs into smaller schools; an emphasis on charters, and NCLB.

The article doesn’t say so, but the Bloomberg administration’s decision to break large HSs into smaller units was part of a Gates initiative that has had mixed results. After advocating smaller high schools for nearly a decade, the Gates Foundation has backed away from that recommended course of action because it did not achieve the expected results. And while the Times writers report that the five small high schools that are now housed in a former comprehensive high school have better graduation rates, they note that the fragmentation caused the demise of three large bands and the de facto elimination of music altogether:

But one downside of the new, small schools is that it is much harder for them to offer specialized programs, whether advanced classes, sports teams, or art or music classes, than it was for the large schools that they replaced. In the case of music, a robust program requires a large student body, and the money that comes with it, to offer a sequence of classes that allows students to progress from level to level, ultimately playing in a large ensemble where they will learn a challenging repertoire and get a taste of what it would be like to play in college or professionally.

But there is no reason a “small” high school needs to sacrifice a music program…. unless the emphasis of the smaller school precludes music, which seems to be the case in NYC. Mr. Bloch and Ms. Taylor describe the forces that combined to undercut music programs in NYC:

In the early 2000s, federal pressure from No Child Left Behind legislation led urban school districts to focus more heavily on math and reading instruction, to the detriment of arts classes. In New York City, Project Arts was dissolved, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg began breaking up the city’s dropout factories.

The new, smaller schools have a hard time offering specialized programs, whether music or sports. Some principals say that, while they would like to be able to offer music programs, they have to prioritize core academic subjects.

Sandra Burgos, the principal of Astor Collegiate Academy, a school of 481 students on the second floor of the Columbus campus, said that she would love to hire a music teacher, but with limited resources — only 28 teachers and 17 classrooms — she feels it’s more important to offer science, technology, engineering and math courses.

The article incorporates a national perspective on music participation, an analysis fails to look deeply at the underlying problem:

Nationwide, high school music participation has “stayed relatively stable over the last 20 years or so,” said Mike Blakeslee, executive director of the National Association for Music Education. But there are significant variations between districts, with districts with more small schools and charter schools falling behind in music participation.

The smaller schools have a hard time fielding concert bands that can perform classical compositions with parts for dozens of instruments. Those arrangements, educators agree, improve individual musicianship, challenge students and prepare them for continued study. In many cases, students who audition for conservatories must perform from a classical repertoire.

What the executive director for music fails to emphasize is this: many schools that would be “small” by NYC standards DO offer comprehensive music programs because parents can afford private music lessons… but “small” schools serving disadvantaged students cannot provide access to bands and orchestras because the students do not have the opportunity to get lessons and, in all probability, do not reside in communities where choral singing groups are available for youngsters. In music as in all academic disciplines, equal opportunities will not be a reality until funding equity is a reality.


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