Music teachers, both locally and across the country, are caught between a rock and a hard place.
Study after study demonstrates the importance of music education in the development of children, including higher test scores, more creative students, better language development and an improved ability to see how things fit together. Given those benefits, it makes perfect sense that exposure to music education declined to 37 percent of students, according to a survey in a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts study.
In New York state, ever-tightening budget constraints and the demands placed upon school administrators by the Common Core State Standards mean music education is taking a back seat when school budgets are put together each year. A cursory look at area school budgets shows Southwestern cutting a full-time elementary school music teacher as part of its 2013-14 budget while Cassadaga Valley Elementary School is cutting 1.5 positions. And Jamestown, you will remember, recently eliminated its Suzuki Strings program.
John Cross, a Cassadaga Valley music teacher, said Monday the Cassadaga Valley school board "needed an intervention" so they would understand the seriousness of cutting music. Parents and music supporters are approaching the situation the wrong way. It's not as if school administrators don't see the value in music education. It's a decision driven by economics and state standards, not disregard for the value of music education. It is easy to allow budget debates to devolve into an "us versus them" argument, but it does no one any good. Music teachers and school administrators aren't enemies. In fact, for the good of music education, they need to get friendly, and soon.
Music education - and education in general - isn't sustainable in its current form. Just look at Cross, who told school board members he has helped pay for NYSMMA trips for students and purchased more than 60 instruments for the music program, all out of his own pocket because there wasn't money in the school's budget. For all their value, the cost in staff and equipment is likely prohibitive for the type of music education schools used to provide.
For as much as arts education can help develop well-rounded children, state education standards will never value music and art education the same way it values math, science, history and language. It's a reality of the new education framework - though perhaps it's a reality that should be re-examined. The academic benefits of music education have been shown to be wide-reaching.
We know music education is a worthy endeavor. We know music education should continue. We don't know the form in which is should continue.
Rather than fight for the old norms, music teachers and school administrators must find a new approach that provides an acceptable level of exposure to the arts at a cost that fits within districts' budgets and the educational restraints determined by the state. Administrators and music educators must work together to find a system that works. There is no perfect solution - but those who find a palatable middle ground will truly be making beautiful music.