FOCUS ON STUDENTS: The Study Hall Game

In This Article:

If you look at your school district’s approach to study hall scheduling, you may find an easy and very telling way to see if your administration has a student-focused or adult-focused approach to music education. What follows is a real-life example from one school district to alert you about some common issues that may arise in your school.

The Problem: School Budget Crisis

The school district was facing a budget crisis and needed to solve the problem of significant anticipated shortfalls. So, to solve the crisis, the administration made the following proposal to the parent committee. As you’ll see, these recommendations were not based purely on budgetary concerns, and they gave little or no attention to student needs.

The Administration’s “Solution”: Require Study Hall

With 1500 students in the high school and a six-period day, the administration decided to require each student to take one* study hall per day. This meant no student could take more than five courses.

The administrative proposal stated it this way in its presentation to the School Board:

- "Eliminate four vocal performing groups at the high school."
- "All high school students (1500) will be required to take a minimum of one study hall per day."

They proposed putting 250 students in a large study hall each period with non-certified personnel to supervise. This is a perfect example of leadership making adult-centered decisions that are not focused on student needs for learning.

Impact on Students in the Music Program

OK, now I want you to think back to what you’ve learned about Full Time Equivalency (FTE).

The (1.0 FTE) full-time high school choral director had 600 students in the program, an average of 100 students per period. By contrast, regular classroom teachers had average (daily) student loads of 125.

If you recall, music teachers offer a higher FTE value than other classroom teachers because their class sizes are usually much larger. In this case, the high school choral director actually had an FTE Value equivalent to 4.8 FTE classroom teachers. More than that, eliminating the four vocal groups would have prevented 354 students from participating in the choral program. And even after the proposed cuts, with 246 students still in the choral program, the high school choral teacher would still have had an FTE value of 2.0 FTE classroom teachers.

While no specifics were presented about impact on the instrumental music program, the administration did recommend that 50% of all music teachers be eliminated. This would have eliminated the entire elementary band and orchestra curriculum, and some instrumental positions at the secondary level. This meant that 276 high school instrumental students would have been prevented from participating in band and orchestra.

With 250 students typically in a study hall, this would be the expected breakdown:

Normal Study Hall Students100Former Vocal Music Students59Former Instrumental Music Students46New Non-music Students45Total Study Hall Students (Proposed)250

The Response From The Music Coalition

Fortunately, this school district had a very active and involved Music Coalition. With consultant assistance, they did some research and presented a report with recommendations to the parent committee of the School Board.

During the process of researching, the Music Coalition learned there was another motivation for the administration’s new study hall requirement.

The administration perceived one music teacher as incompetent, had wanted to dismiss him for years, and the financial crisis seemed to provide the perfect opportunity to do it. However, the administration would have had to cut 50% of the music teachers in order to get deep enough into the seniority track to cut that teacher. As the Coalition’s research revealed, the administration was willing to eliminate music opportunities for 630 students to get that one teacher! (Tenure, as is commonly believed, doesn’t protect incompetent teachers from being dismissed; it does, however, require a competent administration to document the need to dismiss a teacher. But, since few districts are using a functional curriculum, let alone consistent national standards for music education, this is often difficult or perhaps impossible. If a school doesn’t have a written music curriculum that provides adequate student assessment, then there’s no way to evaluate the music faculty.)

But, back to the Coalition’s report to the School Board . . . here’s a segment from it:

“Since it is obvious that the administration did not philosophically support the validity of study hall as an appropriate academic function, it would appear that there are in fact only two real purposes to requiring study hall of all students:

  • To require an additional 270 students (45 per hour x 6 periods) to attend study hall, equating to a total savings of (2.1) FTE for the district.
  • To eliminate the opportunity for 630 students (6 hours x 105 students) to participate in the music program of the high school.”

The Community Demands Reinstatement of the Music Program

The community was so infuriated by the Music Coalition’s findings that over 4,000 people joined the local music coalition and threatened to join forces to bring a lawsuit against the district.

The music program was completely reinstated and the recommendation to require each student to take study hall was dropped.

Once again, a committed Music Coalition was able to save music programs – for the students!

Until next time,

John Benham

[*Note: Or, as is common in the block schedule format (particularly the A/B model), a district may restrict students to seven courses out of eight periods. With one, or even two periods, allocated to required study hall(s), block scheduling becomes an increasingly flawed scheduling option.]