Striking the wrong chord

Art teachers are gone. Science projects have grown nearly extinct in an age when reading and math tests are king. Field trip funding is squeezed, and even paper must be conserved.

Now, in a situation as tight for Medford schools as most can remember, budget cutters are casting an eye toward elementary music programs. They cost the district about $700,000 annually, Superintendent Phil Long has said.

And Long — he explained to the district budget committee last week — is just about out of other ways to trim the 10 percent he may have to cut from the district's $92 million budget for the coming fiscal year. So cutting music is the next logical step.

Except that in so many ways, it isn't. Let's count a few:

  • It doesn't appear to be what the district wants. When the budget committee appeared not to be persuaded by anecdotal accounts, a Jacksonville parent rounded up 250 signatures on a petition last week that asked the district to preserve elementary music.
  • It would strip another form of enrichment from the already threadbare cloth that makes up public education. Art, science and P.E. have fallen by the wayside as emphasis on academic testing has grown. Do educators really wonder why parents take kids elsewhere?
  • Music helps keep some children engaged in school. You know them: Academics are a struggle, but in music they flourish. Students involved in music programs, research has shown, are less likely to cut classes and less likely to drop out of school.
  • Finally, about that research: Mountains of it shows students actually get a better education when schools offer music programs. Music students score better than nonmusic students on tests, according to studies by the Journal of Research in Music Education and The College Board. With music education, their IQ scores grow, and their verbal learning and retention are better.

And that doesn't address the fact that music enriches school in a way filling in the little circles on a worksheet never can. Young children especially need outlets for activity and creativity. Some will have no other place in their life to learn to tap out a rhythm on a simple instrument, be exposed to classical music or learn the lyrics to favorite childhood songs.

That kids are still the point of all this seems to have been muddied this spring in Medford's ongoing debate about how to fix the budget.

We and others have suggested several possible ways to get from Point A to Point B without slicing into the very minimal music education elementary students now receive. But that likely would affect administrators, and Long appears to be loath to do that.

So the proposal to cut elementary music — to eliminate a lauded program that just about everyone agrees is hugely valuable to kids — remains.


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