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Music Educators Gather to Learn and Advocate

Music teachers from around the country are gathered in Washington, D.C. right now to discuss the latest on their profession and learn from one another. The National Association for Music Education (MENC) sponsors Music Education Week, which began yesterday and continues through Tuesday.

Participants will discuss music education policy, attend professional development workshops, and hear performances by the nation’s finest high school musicians and U.S. military music ensembles. The professional development offerings include choral academy, general music academy, instrumental academy, marching music academy, research academy, and supervisors academy.

Connecticut Music Educators Association (CMEA) President Kim Yannon, an Education Association of Cheshire member, is attending along with other music educators on the CMEA executive board.  The CMEA, MENC’s Connecticut affiliate, represents over 1,300 music educators.

Connecticut is currently well represented at the MENC. Its president, Scott Shuler, is the arts education specialist at the Connecticut State Department of Education, and John Kuhner, the eastern division president, is director of instrumental music and K-12 music department chair for the Cheshire public schools.

While in Washington, in addition to taking part in professional development courses and education policy discussions, Connecticut teachers will meet with Senator Lieberman and Representative Himes to advocate on behalf of music education.

Yannon says they will tell lawmakers

  • to make sure that when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is reauthorized, the arts continue to be considered one of the “core academic subjects” of public education – and that they are backed up with corresponding funding;
  • not to go through with proposed arts and education funding cuts;
  • that states that develop data systems should track arts education as they do other subjects areas.

Cuts to music education hurt student learning

Money is tight in districts across the state, and music education is one of the first areas many towns look to cut.  Yannon says that many districts are not replacing teachers who retire.

The Wethersfield midle and high schools have cut their department head position and guitar programs – even though these programs have been key in enabling teachers to reach students not interested in traditional music groups.

NCLB requires schools to make adequate yearly progress in reading and math, which often leaves other subject areas by the wayside. Says Yannon, “Under state and federal law, the focus is on keeping schools off the list and out of trouble.” That means administrators feel that the arts are one area they can sacrifice.

The arts are fundamental to students’ education however, and serve as  a hook for some students to engage them in learning and keep them in school.

Numerous studies have shown the positive effect arts education has on students’ ability to learn and to succeed later in life.

In a 1996 study published in the journal Nature, first-grade classes in Rhode Island public schools received seven months of music and visual arts training.  The training helped lower-scoring students catch up with their peers.

Respondents to a 2007 Harris Poll cite skills they learned in music as helping them in their careers. Seventy-two percent of adults with music education agree that it equips people to be better team players in their career, and nearly six in ten agree that music education has influenced their creative problem-solving skills.

When arts education is cut, the whole learning environment of a school is negatively affected. Children whose parents can’t afford extracurricular offerings are hurt the most.

How is music education in your district standing up to budget cuts? Leave a comment and share your experience.

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