Monday, April 25, 2016

Words and Music

Today I'm sharing a letter from the Howard County Parents for School Music to the Howard County Council pertaining to the Superintendent's proposed budget.


Dear Howard County Council Members,

I am writing to you today with regard to the Howard County School System budget, currently under review by the County Council, on behalf of Howard County Parents for School Music, a service and advocacy organization representing music and arts interests in HCPSS. We were recently asked if we would be willing to support the full funding of this budget at the county and state level. Upon first review, the answer was a resounding yes, increased teacher salaries, maintenance efforts, and funding for growing enrollment are all things we can get behind wholeheartedly.

Unfortunately, upon doing our due diligence on the budget, we discovered that buried in this budget is an increase to fund the expansion of elementary world language. While on the surface we do not oppose this idea, what it actually belies is a plan to expand the Elementary School Model program into seven additional schools. This model has never been open for stakeholder input. It was implemented first at Title I schools, and only introduced to parents after the decision was made to implement it. The school system, in not clearly identifying this planned expansion, attempted to hide the plan as a need to hire more world language educators. We can view the lack of transparency on this issue as more of the same from an unresponsive Superintendent and Board of Education, and a clear attempt at gaining funding for a program without “risking” community input.

We are sure that hearing that the school system has, once again, made a unilateral decision without stakeholder input is not a surprise to you. We are asking that you do anything in your authority to compel the school system to engage the community in a discussion of this program before being allowed to expand it. There are many components to the Elementary School Model, but we believe that the 25% reduction in Art and Music is one of the real drawbacks of the program. To illustrate the effect of this consider that for our youngest students this means a reduction of general music from two times a week for 30 minutes to once a week for 45 minutes. For Art teachers, whose class requires considerable set up and clean up time each week, this has dramatically reduced productive time for the class. Studies have consistently shown that arts education can play a critical role in closing the achievement gap, improving test scores, and enriching the lives of our students.

This issue deserves community input. Imagine several years ago, when middle school Reading was being debated in the county, if this decision had been made without community input. While the final decision did not satisfy all, it was made with the full consideration of all stakeholders. The decision to dramatically change the way we educate our youngest students also deserves to have this input from the community. If you agree, please consider not funding this portion of the budget request until that input is sought.

The people of Howard County are desperate to have their concerns heard, and we at Howard County Parents for School Music join them in that fight. Our school system’s reputation is critical to the economic and social success of our beloved Howard County. Please join us in attempting to restore that reputation by holding the Superintendent and Board of Education accountable for budget transparency and community input.


Howard County Parents for School Music


Yesterday something caught my eye in a Baltimore Sun article about the Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore, the late Freddie Gray's neighborhood.


On the anniversary of Gray's death, DeLuca and fellow sociologists Susan Clampet-Lundquist and Kathryn Edin published their book "Coming of Age in the Other America." It is based on more than a decade of research into the lives of young people in Sandtown and other impoverished neighborhoods.

Their research found that those who succeeded in higher education and better jobs had found an "identity project" — some kind of passion, music or art or whatever defined them as unique. As the authors write in the book, these projects serve as a bridge between their current and perhaps challenging reality and the future they imagine and work toward.

"We all get that — everyone remembers how they felt when they found something they felt excited about, something that sparked their interest," she said. "It seems so simple, but it is absolutely essential."

If we are serious about doing something about the achievement gap in Howard County the last thing we want to do is compromise arts education. Keep in mind that absolutely no data has been shared on the value of the Elementary School Model, whereas there is plentiful data on how a robust arts education benefits students from early childhood onwards.

If we are serious about supporting our children and our schools in Howard County, the last thing we want to do is cut the community out of the process as we set financial priorities. If you are not in favor of this budget, let the County Council know why.

And use your voice and your vote tomorrow to choose a better board of education.



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