by Jeremy Earnhart
For several of us, the term renaissance triggers memories of college music history classes where the presentation of one’s hair was in direct proportion to how recently they stopped tapping the snooze button. This Renaissance is not a music style period, but a renewal of emphasis and a distinctive twist on enrichment courses in public school music education. It is a recommitment or a doubling-down on music as a tool to help students matriculate through the school system – from recruitment out of the elementary grades to the completion of grade 12.
In many schools, secondary music features a team of adult stakeholders (teachers/directors) charged with this important responsibility.
We are talking about the pragmatic case to systemically drive elective participation into classes with high potential student/teacher ratios – band/choir/orchestra – and engender a culture that strengthens these courses as comprehensive beginner through grade 12 vertical programs: A school within a school.
Music Expansion = Enhanced Economics
Bottom line: the more students in your program, the better it is for the school’s finances. “Any circumstance that causes a decline in student enrollment or prevents students from participation will have a negative cost effect on the district budget” (Benham, 2011, p. 95). That is to say, expanding enrollment in secondary music can save money.
If the students are in your program, they are not in another class. The more students you have in your program, the more they are not in other elective classes. This translates into cost savings as your classes have high potential student/teacher ratios. Additionally students of the arts generate higher attendance, graduation rates, and test scores (Texas Music, 2015). Therefore, school systems promoting participation in secondary music supports inherent cost savings and improved achievement data, while providing tremendous student benefits. This is known as a high ROI (return on investment).
As a band director of a growing program, I would say that it was not my job to know where the students aren’t, but where they are. As an administrator, I say that robust fine arts programs increase the bang for your educational buck.
Think Win, Win . . . Win
In today’s culture of choice and downloaded-gratification, we just can’t do fine arts to our students the way fine arts was done to us. “My way or the highway” will simply push kids to the information super-highway or other endeavors absent the aesthetic, cognitive, and relational benefits of our programs. A rising tide lifts all boats; therefore an inclusive approach to expand access and excellence to arts education is a high-yield recipe to serve our students, schools, and communities. Enter a renaissance of traditional enrichment.
As school systems, we don’t need to invent new things for students to do. Arts can provide stabilization for education based on personalization. They build achievement on discovering the individual talents of children and putting them in an environment where they want to learn and can find their true passions (Robinson, 2009).
Literature and research-based benefits of music education – and more specifically instrumental music education – cast a long shadow over the latest (and possibly not greatest) educational fad or business-based solution to fix education. The trick is to think win, win . . . win. When decisions need to be made, remember: Everyone is in it for the students (win), and we all want staff to be taken care of (second win). The trick is to scan the environment and decode/prepare/present how and what you need for your students and staff is also best for the system as a whole (a win thrice).
For example, if your program would benefit from a change within the school schedule (good for your students and staff), be sure to find other classes/programs/activities that could benefit from the change. This process builds consensus, which is ultimately anyone’s most effective weapon in the politics and bureaucracy of public education.
A Systems Approach to Traditional Enrichment
Combining music expansion = enhanced economics with win/win . . . win, provides the foundation for strategies that have worked to change conversations from music cuts to music expansion. Every community, school, and department are different, so adapt accordingly and let us all keep working for greater student access and excellence to music education through innovation – a renaissance of traditional enrichment!
JEREMY EARNHART is Director of Fine Arts in the Arlington, Texas Independent School District. Article reprint courtesy of Music for All.
As published in the National Band Association Journal.