Friday, December 11, 2015

Shattering the Achievement Gap

A little history: back when cuts to music and art instruction were being forced on elementary schools as part of the Model School Initiative, a concerted effort was made to paint the "music moms" as selfish suburban white women who just wanted something free for their own children. A hasty alliance with the African American Community Roundtable resulted in a Board of Education meeting where the Elementary Model was painted as a brilliant move to close the achievement gap.

The "music moms"? They "didn't care" about minority, at-risk, under-achieving children. They cared only about "freebies and frills" to benefit their already affluent off-spring.

Never mind that this was happening while study after study showed that arts education was a significant factor in improving school success for at-risk students. Never mind that the President and Mrs. Obama were hosting the Turnaround Arts program at the White House. With absolutely no data to support a cutback in arts education as a means of closing the achievement gap, and plenty of data to support an actual increase in arts education, the Howard County Schools pulled out all the stops to force this program through.

How is it doing? We have absolutely no idea.

Now this: my husband and I went to the Washington DC Grammy Association's Holiday Party the other night. From the moment we lined up on the sidewalk to get into the club, it was clear that people had put on their holiday finest and then kicked it up a notch. Once we got inside, something else struck me. This party was by far more integrated than any event I had ever attended in Howard County. Who was there? Well, here's a list of jobs available in the music and recording industry:

Musicians, (including session musicians) composers, arrangers, orchestrators, recording technicians, production professionals, music publishers, public relations, bookers and promoters, on the road staff such as lighting and sound technicians, merchandising, house staff, costuming, ticket sales...

I'm sure there's more.

I was in a room full of hardworking professionals in the music business and it looked a whole lot like they were laughing in the face of the achievement gap. All the people in that room, regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic background, were united by a passion to make and share music. And there are many ways to be a part of that, and make a living.

Tell me again why we have to cut arts education? Tell me again why I'm selfish because I want all kids to have the best possible preparation in the arts?

Not everyone will want to pursue a career in the arts. (Or math, or science, or...) But the participation in arts-rich education awakens in so many children a desire to fully engage in the educational process. When we know that, and have the data to support it, it is truly foolish (and selfish) to withhold it.

President Obama has said, "The arts are central to who we are as a people, and they are central to the success of our kids. This is not an afterthought," he said. "This is not something you do because it's kind of nice to do. It is necessary for these young people to succeed that we promote the arts."





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