This is the first article in our series of short pieces written by current students in the Arts Administration Program.
Jessica Isgro wrote this Op-Ed as a student in Principles and Practices of Arts Administration, for an assignment on a critical issue of personal interest within the arts. It appears here in abbreviated form.
Jessica Isgro graduated with Phi Beta Kappa honors from Bucknell University in 2015 where she majored in Music Education and minored in Creative Writing. Jessica has worked in the marketing, publicity, and editorial fields, holding internships with the West Branch Literary Magazine, Jazz at Lincoln Center, 21C Media Group, and The Princeton Festival. Most recently, she worked as a voice teacher and a freelance publicity writer.
One of the most critical issues in the arts today is the need to find funding for music education programs in public schools. Budget cuts, financial crises, and perception of value have rendered some music education programs extinct, while others struggle to endure. Potential solutions to these issues lie in the realm of advocacy and assessment. Advocacy can allow a school’s community to vocalize the necessity of funding for music education programs while assessment can provide a statistical framework to bolster advocates’ claims, improving both funding for, and perceptions of, the arts.
In 2009, the United States government reduced educational funding as a result of the recession (Burrack et al. 36). When faced with reduced funding and budget cuts, schools often eliminate or reduce fine arts programs first (Slaton 33). In Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri, 375 music educators’ positions were cut during the 2011-2012 school year (Burrack et al. 37). Yet research shows that participation in music education programs remained strong despite decreases in funding (Burrack et al. 36). This strong participation persists despite declines in educational quality, as a result of funding and budget cuts. Students can receive inadequate attention in short-staffed schools or lack access to proper materials. Some programs have implemented participation fees to compensate for reduced funding (Burrack et al. 40). This can create cost barriers for some, and benefits may flow only to students with the financial means to support their music education.
Music education also fights an image battle. According to a study published in 2003, 95% of Americans believe that music education is a vital component of the school curriculum, but many school boards and policymakers did not agree (West 75). Some critics of music education feel that it has less real-world application than other academic subjects (Slaton). This perception is reinforced by No Child Left Behind Act’s assertion that achievement must only be demonstrated in math, science, and reading to meet requirements of adequate yearly progress (West 75). In the wake of the Act’s passage, many schools shifted focus to improve standardized test scores in other academic subjects, forcing many music educators to teach non-music (West 78).
Advocacy may offer us a way out. But those most affected by music education cuts must be able to explain the importance of music to their school boards and policymakers (Slaton). Teaching teachers, students, and community members to advocate on behalf of the value of music education can be the first step. Statistical evidence can be used to support advocacy claims. For example, a recent study by Americans for the Arts found that artistic participation correlates to increased graduation rates and better job placement rates for low-income students (Americans for the Arts “Arts”). The positive correlations between musical engagement and achievement can be used to address the issue of value perception.
A second solution lies in the use of assessment in music classrooms in order to track goals, progress, and achievement. Assessment data can be used to demonstrate the benefits of music education (Fisher). These data may increase a positive perception of music education, demonstrating to school board members the benefits that its own students reap from their programs. Assessment can also be used to build a case for stronger funding. The political framework for education often allows educational deficiencies to be exposed through assessment, and existing deficiencies can be met with increased funding (Fisher). Deficiencies exposed through local assessment may bolster a case for increased program funding.
A recent study found that school administrators in a Michigan school district consider many factors when making program cuts, including personal and community values, feasible expenses, utilitarian and aesthetic functions of the program, economic value of music, and music’s contribution to the perception of the school (Major 17). Advocates can address each of these considerations, and use assessment data to support their arguments. The composite of advocacy and assessment can help policymakers at the local level to recognize the benefit of music to fuel support for music education programs.
Arts Advocacy Day Handbook. Washington, D.C.: Americans for the Arts, 2015. Print.
“Americans for the Arts.” Congressional Arts Handbook. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.
Burrack, Frederick William, et al. “The Impact Of Budget Cutbacks On Music Teaching Positions And District Funding In Three Midwestern States.” UPDATE: Applications Of Research In Music Education 33.1 (2014): 36-41. SAGE Premier 2015. Web. 17 Oct.
Elpus, Kenneth. “Improving Music Education Advocacy.” Arts Education Policy Review 108.3 (2007): 13-8. ProQuest. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.
Fisher, Ryan. “Debating Assessment in Music Education.” Research and Issues in Music Education 6.1 (2008): np. ProQuest. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.
Slaton, Emily Dawn. “Collegiate Connections: Music Education Budget Crisis.” Music Educators Journal 99.1 (2012): 33-35. SAGE Premier 2015. Web. 17 Oct. 2015.
West, Chad. “Teaching Music In An Era Of High-Stakes Testing And Budget Reductions.” Arts Education Policy Review 113.2 (2012): 75-79. Professional Development Collection. Web. 17 Oct. 2015.