Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas promised city students and parents that he would increase the district’s offerings in arts, music, and sports. How well that is working depends on who you ask.
District officials say that programs in arts and music in particular are more widely and evenly distributed to all schools than they used to be. But some music teachers addressing the school board last night described a time erosion that they say leaves them with hardly enough time to teach.
For example, kindergarten through fourth graders had 60 minutes of instruction per week last year in some schools. But in the fall they’ll have roughly 35 minutes. That includes transition time — the time it takes students to get from one class to the next.
“Have you ever tried moving kindergartners to another floor?” one teacher said. “It’s like herding cats.”And some music teachers split their schedule with art teachers with 10 weeks on and 10 weeks off. Music teachers say that kind of schedule works well for art, but it isn't enough time to prepare for many of the music events that students like to participate in like band or choir.
The time erosion is the result of a change in how classes and instruction are scheduled. Principals in each building used to design their own schedules. But this coming school year, the schedules or “master plans” have been developed in central office.
Some of the scheduling problems involve a lack of communication between music teachers and the administrators who designed the master plan, who simply don’t know enough about how the instruction is delivered.
And some subjects, like math and science, may have longer time slots. And that time is usually robbed from music and art to supplement tested subject matter. Even worse, many music teachers don’t seem to know where they will be teaching with the start of school just days away; they said haven't gotten their assignments yet.
Vargas vowed to find a solution after hearing that ensembles that involve public performances would be limited.
“It pains me,” Vargas said. “Something is being lost with our children not being able to perform.”
Music teachers regularly recite research that extols the academic value of their specific type of instruction. Students who study music and learn how to play one or more instruments learn self-discipline and often show higher test scores in math and reading, according to the research.
But something else happens, according to the teachers. Students learn how to work together as a team. They participate in something they enjoy and they look forward to coming to school.
Increased attendance is something that Vargas has worked on for two years, so where’s the respect for music, teachers asked?
“Our music instruction supports everything else the students and their teachers do during the day,” one teacher said. “What we do enhances what they’re doing. I don’t have to teach to a test like most teachers do. I can look at the students and see what it is they need that day to help them.”