Battle brews over music instruction 150 at meeting discuss schedule changes at 2 schools

'Important as academics'

Parents seeking to protect programs in middle schools

September 07, 1997|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

Afraid that music programs might be sacrificed in the move to beef up the core academic curriculum in Howard County middle schools, alarmed parents of some young musicians are gearing up for a fight.

Last week, more than 150 parents and teachers turned out at a Howard County Parents for School Music meeting. Their concern: New schedules that seem to downgrade the music programs at Murray Hill and Clarksville middle schools may be just the first of many changes.

"We think music is as important as core academics," said Karen Douglas, president of Parents for School Music, a grass-roots group.

The issue has surfaced in recent weeks amid discussions about adding emphasis to middle schools' core academics. Music supporters are concerned that such courses as art and music will lose out as parents and school administrators stress that more, and better, time must be spent on reading, math and science.

"As they make time in their schedule for all these other things, what's going to happen to music?" Douglas asked.

Middle school music was one of dozens of issues raised in a controversial middle school report issued in October by a group of county parents.

Self-esteem and social issues, the committee found, were heavily emphasized at the expense of core academics.

Recommending more class time on academics, the committee suggested that time for so-called related arts courses -- such as music, physical education and home economics -- might need to reduced.

The school board has taken no official action on the issue, and middle school music policies remain unchanged.

They are still set by principals in each school.

'Jumping the gun'

Addressing the music supporters' concerns, Alice Haskins, head middle school instruction for the county Education Department, said, "We may be jumping the gun here."

But many parents fear that a systemwide policy to cut music time is on the horizon.

Schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey has not relieved those fears. In June, he said that unless school time is expanded, "something has got to give if you are going to have more of an emphasis on academics."

This week, he reiterated that point, saying, "We just have to make choices to do things differently."

At Wednesday's meeting, Nancy B. Utley, whose daughter is at Clarksville Middle School, said: "What are we going to have without music or the performing arts in our schools? We're going to have one-dimensional kids, not well-rounded people."

In response to the middle school report, Clarksville and Murray Hill this year started class schedules that rotate children through expanded class periods each week.

Blocking time

The so-called block schedules also alter the time for music, especially band, for many children.

Two weeks into the school year, parents, teachers and students seem to like the new schedule, which they say allows time for more in-depth work.

"I think this [schedule] really does address some of the things brought up in the report," said Harriet Greenberg, principal at Clarksville Middle.

"The kids are definitely in class more time," she said.

While it is difficult to gauge whether class time for music at the two schools has been reduced, school officials said students who want to maximize their time in the school band must forgo other elective courses to make the time.

This, some parents said, is the problem -- forcing students to choose between band and another standard elective.

"My daughter loves all the related arts," said Donna Thewes, whose seventh-grader, Samantha, plays trombone at Murray Hill Middle.

"If she's missing out on things, that would be almost like being penalized for being in band," Thewes said.

And, parents say, the new scheduling may mark the beginning of more music cuts.

Clarksville and Murray Hill are not the only middle schools that require students to choose among electives.

And other schools, such as Mount View, Elkridge Landing and Owen Brown middle schools, have modified block schedules.

Big decisions

Because some classes at these schools last longer -- 90 minutes, rather than the standard 45 -- class choices are weighty decisions.

"Yes, kids have to make more choices, and parents have to make more choices," Haskins said, defending the new schedules. "But is band the only thing out there for these kids? They're at an age when we want them to be exposed to as much as possible. What about developing friendships and other things?"

At the Parents for School Music meeting Wednesday, parents discussed drawing up petitions and writing letters to school administrators.

Many vowed to speak out on the issue at a school board hearing on the middle school report Sept. 25.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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