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A Modest Proposal

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To the Administration and School Board,
Sirs and Madams, permit me to ask you a question: of these two groups, to which would you provide greater funding?
“Group A” encompasses eleven programs and includes 380 students for an entire year. It promotes academic excellence, scholarly behavior, dedication, and improves test scores. Additionally, Group A represents the school, in a laudable manner, at the community, state, regional, and even national levels.
“Group B” encompasses sixty programs and includes 1000 students; however, only a portion of those students participate in each three month segment. It teaches team work, promotes physical fitness and dedication, and is a source of great school and community pride. Specific programs in Group B represent the school at the community, state, and regional levels, and almost always in a positive light.
From an educational standpoint, given the values, skills, and benefits that it provides, Group A would seem to be the best for the student and school. However, it must be taken into consideration that Group B enrolls 263% more students than Group A. So, given the merits that both these groups possesses and contribute to a school, would it not be fair to say that each should be funded equally, or at least in a proportional manner, per student?
According to the proposed 2010-2011 BUHS District #6 budget, there is no such equality, or proportionality. In our school, there exists a serious imbalance. Understandably the Athletic programs, group B, budget is larger than the music’s, group A, but a disproportionate emphasis is placed on Athletic programs, over music programs.
For the 380 students (the number of students reflects the total number of students in each ensemble or team, so some students are counted multiple times) in the BUHS #6 Music Department, there is $29,256.03 budgeted for 2010-2011, or 10.3% of the Student Activities Fund (SAF). A seemingly large sum of money, it works out to roughly $77.00 per student. However, when compared to the budget for athletics, that number seems pitifully small. The athletic department’s proposed budget (from the SAF) amounts to $222,260, or 78.4% of the SAF, $222.26 per student. As a student in this school, and a dedicated participant of both the Music and Athletic Departments, I find this implicit preferential treatment unsettling.
Having played the violin for over twelve years, I have come to understand the intrinsic value of playing an instrument. It has had a profound impact on my abilities and growth as a student, and as a citizen. But, I am not an isolated case. According to the College Board, high school musicians scored 57 points higher on the verbal sections, and 41 points higher on the math sections of the SATs than their non-musician peers . An article published in the March 1999 issue of Neurological Research states that students with just four months of piano lessons scored over 27 percent higher on a proportional math and fractions test than the control group . In a study of 25,000 students over ten years, Dr. James Catterall, a professor at UCLA, found that music education improved test scores regardless of a student’s socioeconomic background; improvements in “low income” students were especially pronounced. Given the ongoing concerns regarding NECAP scores, it would seem that our school and students would benefit greatly from an increased emphasis on music.
Athletics have many benefits as well, the most obvious being physical fitness and overall health. But being on a sports team also teaches dedication, motivation, team work and, “Athletic programs fulfill students’ basic needs, help in [their] attitudes towards self and school, minimize dropout and discipline programs.” Additionally, our sports teams are a great source of pride for our school and community; they can contribute immensely to our school spirit. But what of academics? “A study published in the August [2006] issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that students who took part in more vigorous sports did approximately 10% better in math, science, English, and social studies classes.” However, that same study goes on to say, “The relationship between physical activity and academic achievement that is observed in this study may no longer be significant when controlling for socioeconomic status.” Meaning that more affluent students already get higher academic scores and they tend to participate more in vigorous exercise.
All things considered, the data suggests that while sports are good for students, for many reasons, participating in a music program is a more appropriate way of improving academics and test scores. So why does that discrepancy in funding and perceived value exist?
Yes, you can argue that sports generate more revenue than the music programs, but only in total amount. The BUHS athletics programs are budgeted to create $19,450 in revenue, or about $19.45 per student. The music department is budgeted to bring in about $8,500, or $22.38 per student. Given these numbers, I would consider that argument null and void and insufficient to justify this funding gap.
I understand that sports programs are generally more expensive – you have to pay for more transportation and equipment. Although, I have yet to find a article of sports equipment that is more expensive than a decent instrument. I understand that there are many more sports teams than musical ensembles and many more students. However, does that justify a difference of nearly $150 per student? And to what end? As I noted before, there are many benefits to playing sports but the benefits of music programs would seem to better align with this school’s goal. In fact, being involved in a musical program would directly help students reach eight of the thirteen “Performance Expectations” as stated on the BUHS website.

Function independently while taking responsibility for their behavior.

Work respectfully, cooperatively and productively with others.

Read critically and with understanding in order to interpret a variety of materials.

Write with clarity, purpose, and understanding of audience.

Listen actively and critically.

Use mathematical concepts, models and strategies for a variety of purposes.

Use scientific methods and concepts to understand and explain the world around them.

Understand and express their relationship to the world through the visual, performing and language arts.

And considering the test based environment that we live in - as a school and as a community - and the skill sets students require for the future, would it not be fair to say that you should focus more on music programs? You owe it to the students and the school to provide only the best. I will be the first to say that my high school has done that; our music department is one of the best in the state and its participants have won countless awards and honors. However, our numbers are dwindling. Ever year, fewer and fewer youths decide to continue on with music and this will have a dramatic impact on our music program, this school, and the district in the near future.
Let me be clear in saying that I am not advocating against sports, but instead I am urging you to act. As school board members, administrators, educators, and community members, you have the power, and a responsibility to invest more in music programs and to encourage more youths to participate. You have the power to ensure this districts success. Investing more in music programs at the high school, middle school, and primary schools levels would be truly that – an investment in the students’ and district’s futures.

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