Why does Instrumental Music have more instructional time?
This is perhaps the most common and central question to the current
elementary scheduling dialog. PE, Art, Library, Social Studies, Science,
Math, Reading, Writing. These are all extremely important to all of us. We
do not view music as being more important than any one of these. When
you look simply at the number of hours allocated, it most definitely
raises a question that must be addressed: Why is instrumental music allotted
more instructional time than the other special subjects, PE, library, and
Answer: There are numerous factors to consider beyond a
simplistic comparison of number of hours.
- Look at more than just the numbers.
- Imbalance of Opportunity (There is no Little League for band!)
- Complexity and Divergence of Skills
- Learn from history: We must competitively attract and retain students and quality
- Compete by Teaching to Standards
- Music is the Most Multi-Disciplinary Subject
Look at more than just the numbers.
In order to seek a balanced and logical solution, you cannot just
look at a comparison of hours, identify the item that has more, then
slice it back to match the others. You first must understand why the
allocation was that way in the first place. You must understand the
difference in instructional complexity, student-teacher ratios, and
educational standards. And, you must understand the value added by each
item and what would lost by cutting blindly.
Dumb Analogy: Here's an absurd analogy to show how illogical
it is to use a simplistic numbers (i.e. time, dollars, etc.) as a
justification to equalize via blind cuts. K-12 is by far the largest
line item in the state budget. That budget is currently not just in
crisis, it is in chaos on the brink of catastrophe. There are those who
say: "Hey, look at how many more dollars K-12 is getting than
public safety, social services, roads, etc. Let's just cut K-12 back
until its equal with those!!!" That would be a ludicrous,
mindless, and stupidly short sighted approach. It can easily be argued
that of all the line items in the state budget, the one with BY FAR the
greatest return on investment is K-12 education. Does that mean that
other state endeavors such as public safety and economic development
don't matter? Of course they matter. But, the best long term investment
we can make in public safety, economic development, and a long list of
other state endeavors is a renewed commitment to K-12 education. Why
does K-12 have more dollars? Because that is what it takes to do an
effective job and the results we get from K-12 matter! Just because
K-12 has more hours than DPS, should we just blindly cut it down to par
with no consideration for the consequences? No!
The relative cost-benefit of music to other subjects is certainly
different than comparing K-12 with the rest of the state budget. But,
the lesson in logical and thorough decision making is the same. Don't
just compare numbers and cut to par! Music education is complex at a level
not widely understood and brings educational benefits at a level not
widely understood. Dig into those two questions then decide what cuts
Imbalance of Opportunity (There is no Little League for band!)
As we have said, we do not view music as being more important than
PE, art, library, or any of the subjects taught by the classroom
teachers. However, there is an imbalance of access outside of the school
curriculum that does need to be taken into consideration. When you look
at the complete life experience of students, they do not enjoy the same level of access to
active group music participation that they do with the other subject areas.
Students absolutely need extensive physical education and activity.
They should receive this as part of the standardized elementary
curriculum. However, in our community there are numerous additional opportunities
for students to actively participate in athletics and physical activity. In
Gilbert there are numerous basketball, soccer, football, and other
sports leagues consuming weekends and hours after school. Many kids take gymnastics or dance for 10-20 hours a
week after school. Most neighborhoods have sport courts where kids
regularly play all kinds of sports. During recess, elementary students
are able to play hard and receive much needed exercise. Scout troops go
on regular hikes and bike trips. Should any of
these be considered a substitute for structured education by
professional PE teachers? Absolutely not! But, does music enjoy the same
alternate participation opportunities in Gilbert? No! There is no
Little League for band! There is not Pop Warner for orchestra!
Gilbert's zoning code does not require home builders to install music
rehearsal halls in our neighborhoods the way it does require sport
courts, open space, trails, and parks. The Town of Gilbert has spent
millions of dollars building and/or subsidizing ball fields and athletic
services in its dozens of parks. There is no comparable infrastructure,
facility, or support for music in our community outside of
the public school experience. It would be great if the community offered
a comparable level of opportunity, but it does not.
Yes, students can attend private music
lessons, but that does not replace one of the most critical and
beneficial aspects of music education: Group Interaction. And,
because private lessons are by definition one-on-one, they are
considerably more cost prohibitive than league sports thus widening
the gap of accessibility. There are some
non-school organizations such as East Valley Youth Symphony. But, access
to those is limited because there are so few and they tend to for
students past the beginning level. The educational, social,
and developmental benefits of music education and group music participation
are vast and exhaustively documented. However, unlike sports and
physical activity, the only opportunity for most students to enjoy
those GROUP benefits are within the elementary school curriculum.
Is music more important than PE? No! But given the overall imbalance
of access to opportunity, does it make sense to allot more time to
group music instruction in elementary school? With all respect and
appreciation for PE teachers and the critical value they provide, we
suggest that these bigger pictures factors should be considered.
Art and Library
Is art and library critical to the holistic educational experience?
Absolutely! Are they less important than music? Of course not! The
primary source of inspiration for millennia of composers has been
great art and literature. All are so tightly intertwined that perhaps
any one could not exist in a viable state without the others. Should
art and library instruction suffer to the advancement of music?
But, there are some distinctions. All three rely on a combination
of group instruction and individual practice or execution. The art
teacher must have time to teach and students must have time to learn
by seeing what his or her peers are creating. Then, the student ought
to go home and practice the act of creation alone in order to
reinforce the skills as well as developmental benefits. The librarian
must have time with students to inspire a sense of awe at how much
knowledge is contained in a library as well as the skills to sift
through and find what is of most interest to that individual student.
Then, the student must take time on his own exploring the library in
order to become an independent seeker of knowledge.
The formula for music has a similar pattern as art and library,
but, there are some key differences as well. First, while art and
library rely on the group experience, music does so at a much larger
degree. Band and orchestra are by definition group activities. Without
the group element, there is no band and orchestra. Art and and library
can be experienced outside of the group. Band and orchestra cannot.
Students can visit the library alone or work on art projects outside
of instructional time. Students cannot participate in a music group
alone or outside of instructional time! The allotted band and
strings time are the ONLY time students have to participate with a
What about opportunities outside of school? Just like sports
leagues are not a replacement for PE class, public libraries are not a
replacement for library instruction. But, Gilbert has one of the
finest public libraries in the state subsidized by the local community
and is heavily used by students across the district. This is just an
additional example of how the community outside the schools provides opportunities
for the other special areas that it does not provide for music.
So, is this imbalance of access to opportunity in our community
right? Is it really the school district's responsibility to rectify this
imbalance? Of course it is not the districts' burden alone. But, does
mitigating the imbalance, even if only in small ways, contribute to an
overall better educational experience and academic performance for
Gilbert students? Yes! For that reason, should this imbalance be
taken into consideration as justification for music getting a larger allotment
of instructional time? Yes!
Complexity and Divergence of Skills
Another key distinction is complexity and divergence of skill
instruction. PE, library, and art teachers are generally teaching one
skill at a time to the entire class. Band and strings teachers are
teaching divergent skill to multiple sub-groups simultaneously. Teaching
flute is quite different than teaching a tuba. Try teaching both at the
same time! Each section is playing a different part with different notes
and different rhythms. Half the group is reading bass clef, the other
half is reading treble clef. Some need to figure out how to keep their
reed the correct moisture while others are figuring out how buzzing
different produces different notes. Strings teachers have three clefs,
bow technique, multiple parts, and let's talk about pitch! If a
saxophone player puts his fingers in the right place, he'll generally
land in the right ballpark of pitch (give or take). But a violin player
has no keys, just an unfretted finger board. The strings teacher has to
balance reading clefs, notes, rhythms, bow holds, and so much more with
helping a few dozen kids put that finger in just the right spot using
the ear as a guide all in a way that helps them remember how to do that
again the next time. Music teachers are required to teach more skills
at a highly complex level and need more time to do it.
Learn from history: We must competitively attract and retain students
and quality teachers.
In 1979, Dr. Barrett, then Assistant Superintendent, realized that a
large number of Gilbert students were boundary exempting into Mesa for
their outstanding music program. In 1981, he hired three Nationally
respected music educators to come to Gilbert and evaluate the music
program and make recommendations.
Among their recommendations were:
- scheduling music three times per week.
- having instrumental classes meet in like-instrument groupings and
in large ensembles.
- class lengths of 45 minutes.
- not pulling students out of classroom instruction to teach
- hiring only highly qualified music educators who were specialists
in their discipline.
These recommendations were implemented beginning in 1981. In 1986,
Patterson became the first school to try the 6-Day cycle, which went
district wide the following year.
Compete by Teaching to Standards
Before we had a superior music program, we were loosing students to Mesa.
If we cut back, that can happen again. We cannot continue to compete if
we do not at least teach to the standards.
Gilbert's current program teaches the Arizona Music Standards:
- Based on 90 minutes of music
instruction per week, with instrumental music classes meeting daily.
- GPS Music Curriculum based on current instruction time of 140 minutes
every six days
- The recommendations presented to Gilbert in 1981 align with the
National Standards for Arts Education and the Arizona Music Standards.
- Gilbert rewrote the music curriculum two years ago to align with
Arizona Music Standards.
Going backwards not only damages our music programs, it damages
Gilbert's overall competitive edge.
The proposed 38% cut to elementary band and strings is only 80
minutes, twice a week. Gilbert would be teaching BELOW the
Music is the Most Multi-Disciplinary Subject
This topic addressed in more detail in our February report to the
Board and can be downloaded
here. In summary, music instruction needs more time because it
teaches students in all the learning domains simultaneously. This is not
to diminish the importance or value of the other subjects or to say
other subjects do not also enhance all the learning domains. It is just
a matter of balance and emphasis. PE by definition puts a primary
emphasis on motor skills with secondary emphasis on analytical and
emotional skills. Art puts a primary emphasis on creative or emotional
skills with a secondary emphasis on motor skills or cognitive skills.
Music requires all three domains, cognitive, affective, and psychomotor
to be given primary emphasis simultaneously at all times. This requires
additional time in order to be affective. It also produce the benefit of
students who can more fluidly think and act across all three domains contributing
to a more whole person.