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Is Music Important In Schools? “It’s critical,” says the District’s Director of Music Education.

April 30, 2015

MusicEducationOnline02Philadelphia’s youth are caught up in a churning tide of financial turmoil.

The Philadelphia School District, the nation’s eighth largest public school system, is woefully underfunded and expenditures only increase every year. Basic amenities, like school nursing, sports teams and libraries, have been reduced or eliminated at many city schools. The arts are always on or near the chopping block as well.

Our Brianna Spause sat down with Frank Machos, the director of music education for the Philadelphia School District, to talk about budget woes and how the district is continuing to provide arts training.

What changes has the music department seen since Governor Corbett’s 2013 “doomsday budget?”

Two major changes have been a massive reduction to our central office staff. We have no more support positions and are tasked with a much bigger palette of responsibilities. In the schools, the biggest effect has been on our support and operating budgets.

What resources are lacking that would create a solid program?

Extra-curricular money. A lot of our after and before school programs have been cut and that’s had a large effect on overall programming. The biggest need is instrument repair. We provide all of our students in the district with instruments, so they quickly deteriorate. We are in a situation now where if a principal opens a new program or we hire a new teacher, they are at the mercy of whatever resources have been left in place. As things go and deteriorate, we don’t have funds to repair or upgrade.

MusicEducationOnline01If funds were available, in what resources would the school district invest?

Music technology across the board – just innovation – is a major need that we would address. If we had the tools in place, a creative and clever teacher would get kids hooked and then introduce them to traditional music and history. Sometimes just getting that initial hook is a challenge because we don’t have the resources that the kids want to see when they walk in.

Are music classes required in all schools?

In 2004, the policy went into effect in the state that says a classroom teacher can teach a music lesson. With the minimal funding toward staffing, all of the teachers in the building are facing an overloaded schedule. It’s met with mixed reviews, obviously. Our certified teachers would prefer that we would have certified teachers teaching [music] but from a standpoint of resources, our priority is that every student has exposure and access to these programs. Our certified music teachers kick in at sixth grade. What is happening in elementary school with an uncertified teacher is more of an exposure than any in-depth curriculum. That creates a challenge in building off of that.
Are there any schools that do not offer music programs?

There are a few. It’s probably about 25 percent where no music is offered.

How have programs downsized?

It’s a mixed message in branding that we have faced. A lot of the perception outside of the district is that our programs have gone away all together, and they really haven’t. All of our high schools are required to carry music or art. Our kids are required to achieve two credits in arts and humanities prior to graduation. For the most part, it’s fairly healthy. Of course, our ideal is that every kid in the city has both. We’re reevaluating how we might be able to reallocate resources over the next few years.

What are the tangible lessons students gain from music education?

Along the way, they’re meeting folks from the Philadelphia Orchestra (like in the images above by Charles Shan Cerrone) and from the Curtis Institute. They’re getting private lessons, winning scholarships. We’re requiring them to be places on Saturday morning at a certain time. We’re giving them all of this college and career training that, for years, we forget to tell as part of the story. But when we start to do data on it, it starts to validate what we are able to do for these kids.

Why is music an important part of developmental education?

It’s the student engagement piece. Our kids are becoming increasingly overtaxed and overburdened by standardized testing with high stakes. To have an outlet within the building that lets them decompress for a period of time, allows them access to other parts of their learning abilities and emotions that the typical classroom is not designed to do. It’s critical.

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