March 30, 2012
(Editor's Note: This spring, it's critically important that music education advocates attend school board meetings to monitor school planning and budgets for next year. It's essential to be prepared to counter any threats to school music program funding: if you have a solid grasp of your district's financial realities, you'll be able to present the fiscal value of your music programs within a positive and cost-saving economic framework. In this two-part series by leading music education advocate, Dr. John Benham, you'll learn to use his concept of “Reverse Economics” to help preserve and even strengthen music education programs for your school's music students. And, if you're curious about the origins and impact of Dr. Benham's work, tune into his short video in the NAMM Oral History archives.)
FOCUS ON BUDGET: Reverse Economics – Developing a Fiscal Case for Your Music Program (Part 1 of 2)
Most people don't realize that money is actually saved by making in-school music programs stronger – and that it costs more in the long run to make cuts to programs. This concept of “reverse economics” should be part of school board discussions about making cuts to music programs and it's especially important for advocates to understand it to help protect public school programs in tight economic times.
In this two-part series, you'll collect and analyze the data that underlies your district's student enrollment, participation in music programs, and teacher loads, and then learn how to use it to make a strong fiscal case for your music program.
To help frame your examination of your district's situation, consider these potential scenarios and their impact on full student participation in music programs:
1. If the average (district-wide) student loads of secondary music performance teachers are smaller than classroom teachers, you will be in the weakest financial position to preserve or build your program. If you ask why, you'll often find the solution to saving the program. For example, you may uncover administrative issues that prevent student participation such as guidance counselors who tell students not to take the arts, or a refusal to schedule music performance classes in a way that facilitates student participation.
2. If the average student loads of secondary music performance teachers are the same as those of other classroom teachers, you are financially justified in fighting to take only your fair share of cuts. However, it is strongly recommended that music supervisors, music teachers and advocates assume a posture of “no cuts”; if cuts are made, administration and school board will be able to blame you for suggesting them.
3. If the average student loads of secondary music performance teachers are normally larger than those of the regular classroom teacher, this is where music programs should be economically most secure. Any cuts in music programs under these circumstances are economically counter-productive. The primary cost factor in education is personnel. The most cost-efficient personnel are those who instruct the largest number of students in a given class period and/or who carry the largest student loads. (See my series of articles on FTE and FTE Value)
Read more to see how to collect and analyze your district's data of student music participation and use it to begin to create a strong defense for your school music program.
FOCUS ON BUDGET: Reverse Economics – Developing a Fiscal Case for Your Music Program (Part 2 of 2)
In Part 1 of this article on reverse economics, I showed you how to collect and analyze district-wide data related to student participation in music programs. Many school board members assume that eliminating elementary music education programs will ease budget crunches, as well as longer-term budgetary constraints, with little detrimental effect on student participation in music in the upper grade levels.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
We already know the intrinsic value of music education for students: this article shows that maintaining strong elementary music education programs offers long-term fiscal value as well.
Extensive national case studies indicate that when the grade 5 elementary instrumental and/or choral feeder system is eliminated, the subsequent decline in student participation at the secondary level will be a minimum of 65%. Within four years this decline in participation is incurred at the high school level. [Note: This has to do with the well-known concept of "windows of learning" opportunities that reach their maximum level between ages 10 and 12. See the last line on the chart from Part 1, Student Participation in Band, (7 - "Eliminate Grade 5,") to see the anticipated impact on band enrollment in subsequent grades.]
Any circumstance that causes a decline in student enrollment or prevents students from participation will have a negative cost effect on the district budget. In the chart above, the anticipated long term loss of 380 band students (caused by the proposed elimination of grade 5 band) would necessitate the eventual employment of 3.3 FTE secondary non-music class room teachers (380 students/116 student load average), while maintaining an appropriate number of music performance FTE to continue the program of those students still electing participation.
The elimination of an elementary music performance "pull-out" program only delays the reverse economic effect for a year or two until those (former or potential) students reach the secondary school level. At that point, the temporary “solution” becomes the cause of an even deeper financial crisis.
Read more to clearly grasp the detrimental financial effects of eliminating music programs and to understand how using data and the concepts in this two-part article can save your school music program.
-- Dr. John Benham is a leading music education advocate, consultant and teacher, who served two terms on a Minnesota school board of education. He is the author of Music Advocacy: Moving from Survival to Vision.