CURRICULUM CONSIDERATIONS FOR DCPS 2009 BUDGET

FOR NOVEMBER 15, 2007 PUBLIC HEARING

By

Dorothy Marschak, Founder and President

CHIME (Community Help In Community Education)

 

I appreciate this opportunity to have input into the 2009 school budget process. My comments concern the curriculum, particularly for music education, as affected by funding deficiencies in the current and past budgets, and the priority given to raising NCLB-mandated test scores in reading and math. These have led to a steady reduction in time and money allocated to music (as well as other arts) with, as evidence cited later indicates, a negative impact on academic performance, drop-out and graduation rates, career preparation, and social responsibility, as well as on personal fulfillment.

Inadequacy of current DCPS music education:   The DCPS Director of Music says he is unable to find out the number of schools with music teachers, or bands this year, but according to him last year almost 40% of elementary students and over 20% of secondary school students had no music teacher, and our remaining school bands were handicapped by lack of decent instruments, prepared students, or allocated school instruction time. Under Mary Levy’s analysis of the current school budget, there are probably even fewer music teachers this year.

Teaching to the test in reading and math hasn’t worked even in raising those scores, much less in fulfilling important goals of education.  Please Chancellor Rhee—while your broom is busy cleaning up the buildings, providing text books on time, and trying to improve the quality of administration and teaching staff—also put your formidable energy and ability into changing what goes on in the classrooms to offer the training that students need to qualify for good careers, to be good citizens, to learn about our cultural heritages, and to develop their potentials—none of these goals are met by a narrow and unstimulating curriculum aimed primarily at raising multiple-choice standardized test scores. You have listened to community input, and know how strong the pleas are to put music and other arts back into the schools, and to provide meaningful after-school activities

DCPS has complied with NCLB for years by focusing on test prep, without succeeding in significantly raising the scores. What we have experienced under this deadening policy has been loss of some of the best teachers, increased drop-outs and low rates of graduation, and continued high levels of anti-social behavior. Isn’t it time to try another strategy that could not only raise test scores by increasing motivation and interest in learning, but also promote the real goals of education?

The Inter-American Bank has evaluated the acclaimed Venezuelan music education system, now coming to L.A. with the new 26-yr old Venezuelan Music Director of the LA Philharmonic.  It shows that this system that offers free intensive group orchestra training to all its children down to the poorest, from ages 3 on up, significantly increases academic performance, reduces drop-outs, improves behavior and reduces youth crime.  I am attaching a 3-page excerpt from a recent IADB report on the system, which documents its individual and social benefits and its high social benefit/cost ratio (1.68).

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We once had good music education in all DC public schools in the days when it was centrally funded, and our many school bands were the pride of their schools and the city, as was documented in the exhibition about the history of DC school bands last year at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum (that CHIME initiated and collaborated on). Bringing it back, perhaps looking to the Venezuelan model as L.A.is going to do, would be a good social investment here too, and should not be an impossible dream. Our best remaining example of what a good music program can do, the Ballou H.S. Band, demonstrates how a dedicated teacher, in a school whose recent problems were front-page news,  can turn hundreds of at-risk kids into disciplined and achieving students who  rehearse every afternoon and weekends too.

 

Some suggestions for how to do it:

1. Restore centralized budgeting to music education so that every elementary and middle school, whatever its size, can provide choral and instrumental instruction, with direction and oversight by a musically-trained Assistant Superintendant, as used to exist in DCPS before the 1993 decentralization.

2. Extend the school day by at least one hour to give more time for the arts and PE, and to meet community pleas for more meaningful activities in the late afternoon.

3. Make use of the DC areas’ wealth of private music performer-educators as adjunct directors of performing ensembles for schools, to meet the current shortage of certified instrumental music teachers. They would not have to be full-time certified teachers, if they otherwise meet professional qualifications.

4. Enlist the business community—in particular the Nationals and the developers who have benefited so much from our public funding—in funding and otherwise supporting the build-up of school bands, orchestras and choruses. It would be good marketing for them.

Please, Chancellor Rhee, propose and fight for an adequate budget to provide a first-class education, including first-class music education, for our public school students. Our elected officials, who claim education is their number one priority, should exercise their ingenuity in finding  the means to pay for it, as they did for the baseball stadium. It is the best investment we can make.  Investing in Early Childhood Education, as currently planned, provided it is sufficient for proper quality, is great public policy. But unless it is accompanied by sufficient funding and quality for the ensuing 12 years of schooling, it is unlikely to have a lasting impact. 

 

Thank you for your attention.

APPENDIX

 

THE VENEZUELA’S NATIONAL SYSTEM OF YOUTH  ORCHESTRAS
by JOSÉ CUESTA

 INTER-AMERICAN DEVELOPMENT BANK
JUNE 2007

Excerpts from the 9 page report.

 

1. Introduction

Venezuela’s National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras (the “System”) is a pioneering initiative that, for more than 30 years, has provided musical training to over two million Venezuelan boys and girls ages 3 to 19. The System is made up of the Fundación del Estado para el Sistema Nacional de Orquestas Juveniles e Infantiles de Venezuela [Venezuelan State Foundation for the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras] (FESNOJIV) (its centralized management body based in Caracas), 126 community-based centers located in all the states in the country, and, associated with them, 326 orchestras and choirs. There are currently 245,353 beneficiaries enrolled in the program, of whom approximately 67% are from the country’s two poorest social strata (81% if the medium-low stratum is included).1 The primary individual benefits attributed to the System include improvements in academic achievement and in the psychological development of children and young people. Its social benefits include reducing the school dropout rate and the rate of youth violence. The System has also included particularly vulnerable groups, such as the disabled: the Coro de las Manos Blancas—the world’s only choir of deaf girls, boys, and young people. All of this has led other countries in the region, including Ecuador, Chile, and Colombia, to implement similar systems………...

2. Social development through music in Venezuela

The System. The social development model based on music education was developed in Venezuela around the Venezuelan National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras. The System comprises a national level and a community level. At the national level is the Venezuelan State Foundation for the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras (FESNOJIV), while the System’s community level is made up of 126 community-based centers and 326 orchestras and choirs. Currently attached to the Ministry of Social Welfare and Participation (MPPPPS), FESNOJIV has enjoyed significant independence and continuity since its establishment in 1979. Its mission is to contribute to the country’s social development through music, particularly the development of vulnerable children and young people. In practice, this foundation serves as the executive and operational administration managing the creation, implementation, outfitting, development, and supervision of the community-based centers, orchestras, and choirs in the System. FESNOJIV has maintained stable management for over three decades, and become an institution of recognized prestige both domestically and internationally, as demonstrated by numerous international awards.2

Community-based centers. The 126 community-based centers currently operating are the System’s basic units. Based on FESNOJIV’s planning and guidelines, the centers are responsible for executing the various orchestral and choral programs and teaching instrument lessons and supporting theory classes. They promote the System locally through concerts and recitals, and act as a bridge to ensure that the most talented students pursue their studies. In many cases they also become centers promoting educational, artistic, and cultural activities in the community. They promote the development of children and young people’s cognitive, musical, personal, and social skills. There are different types of centers that vary in size and complexity, with an average of 2,000 beneficiaries per center. There are centers in every state in the country (with 12 in the Capital District).

Financing. …..

Quality of service. The System has achieved high levels of quality in its services. Despite the sharp increase in annual enrollment, it continues to implement a pioneering teaching method that simultaneously integrates theoretical, instrumental practice, and orchestral practice components of orchestral execution from the outset. This ensures that individuals participate in a group from the moment they enter the System and engage in theoretical and instrumental music instruction in an isolated manner (as is common in other traditional teaching methods), but rather collectively with other boys, girls, and young people. Unlike other group teaching methods (such as, the Suzuki method), the Venezuelan method also ensures early and continued exposure to great musical works, on the one hand, and on the other, seeks continuous contact between the beneficiary and his or her community. This strong link with the community—through frequent community performances— ensures that the beneficiary remains motivated and stays in the System. According to the baseline developed for this program, beneficiaries participate in the System for an average of 10 years. This allows them to absorb values such as teamwork and the pursuit of collective excellence during their participation in the System. As a result, 85% of students achieve a level of music proficiency considered good or excellent. All beneficiaries receive at least one individual class per week and at least three weekly workshops by instrument. The System provides an average of 17 hours of classroom time per week, for 40 weeks a year. Despite this academic load, each of the System’s Orchestras averages 26 musical performances a year. Despite swelling enrollment in recent years, the ratio of musical instruments per student has remained at two instruments for every three students, which is considered adequate for musical instruction.

Benefits. Sixty-three percent of the System’s beneficiaries have good or excellent achievement in school (compared to 50% among their classmates who do not participate in the System). Parents report substantial improvements in their children’s punctuality, responsibility, and discipline after going through the System (95%, 96%, and 86%, respectively, according to the 2004 ULA report). According to the results of a recent cost-benefit study conducted during program preparation, there are important social benefits—representing about 1.68 bolívares for each bolívar invested in the System— from the decline in the school dropout rate and the drop in victimization in communities where the System is present (see Table 3 below).  The program’s baseline also confirms the benefits related to the training of human capital and individual behavior (two-thirds of parents surveyed report these as the primary advantages of their children’s participation in the System). As shown in Table 1, there are also significant benefits in terms of social capital formation and improvement in formal employment expectations for young people of working age (14 and up).

Table 1
Baseline indicators
3

Measure

Indicator

Treatment group

Control group

Academic

Class attendance

95.5%

87.6%

achievement

School dropout rate

6.9%

26.4%

Employability

Participation in formal employment of youth aged 14 and up: participation in social security system and/or written contract

40.7%

12.5%

Conflict management/ socail capital

Participation in community activities

60.1%

37.9%

Percentage of beneficiaries whose parents or guardinas are notified of behavior probles at school

12.4%

22.5%

Socioeconomic profile of the beneficiary

Persons living in poverty

59.9%

69.8%

 

3 The survey was conducted from October to December 2006, in 15 System centers (12% of all centers) in six states. The sample consisted of 840 boys, girls, and young people, as well as 500 parents and/or guardians. They were organized into two groups of equal size: the intervention group and the control group, based on whether or not they participated in the System. Information was collected on a total of 26 indicators.

Caracas, the population served has grown annually at an average rate of 8.5% (below the System’s annual growth rate).

Beneficiaries. It is estimated that more than two million boys, girls, and young people ages 3 to 19 have passed through the System since its creation in the 1970s. The annual growth in enrollment over the last seven years has been over 13%, with annual growth rates exceeding 20% in states with medium or low human development such as Sucre, Guárico, Trujillo, and Yaracuy. This has allowed the System to more than double its enrollment over this period from 100,000 beneficiaries in 1999 to the current 245,343. In

FESNOJIV’s 2005 Annual Report indicated that nearly 67% of the System’s beneficiaries came from poor strata of the population, that is, those living below the level of the basic shopping basket, made up of foodstuffs, essential products, and services, while this figure would jump to 81% if beneficiaries from the medium-low stratum were included. This beneficiary profile is achieved despite the fact that the System does not include explicit mechanisms for positive discrimination of its beneficiaries beyond their location in poor districts, resulting from a process of self-selection, and the provision of services based on community demand (demand driven). …

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