A Response to the 2015-2016 Vancouver School Board
Preliminary Budget Proposal
The Coalition for Music Education in British Columbia (CMEBC) stands firmly against the proposed cut to the Vancouver School Board’s Elementary Band and Strings Program of 3.8 FTE, unless this reduction implies that the Elementary Band and Strings Program will be restructured to create a model that retains the high quality band and strings program as well as cultivates a better general music education program at the elementary school level.
When faced with no other alternative, it is always better to reduce rather than eliminate programs, and we appreciate the effort of the VSB to sustain the Elementary Band and Strings Program as much as possible. If the budget passes as proposed, and funding for the 3.8 FTE cannot be secured, we are hopeful that the reduction in staff time from the program’s current model will create opportunities that will actually strengthen elementary music education in the VSB.
Each time the VSB has placed music on the chopping block, there has been an outcry in support of music education from a tremendous number of stakeholders. There is simply no denying that music education is valued and essential. The February, 2015 consultant’s report concerning music in the VSB documented this support and presented hard data and facts as to why music education must be preserved and strengthened. As the CMEBC recommended in our March, 2015 response to the VSB, the district needs to take leadership over their policy for arts education if music is to be taught effectively. District leadership that outlines requirements and expectations for the music program in every school is necessary. Short of leadership at the provincial level that mandates music taught by specialist teachers in every school, the next best thing is for leadership at the district level.
The CMEBC urges the VSB to use the proposed cut of 3.8 FTE in a meaningful way. The music specialist teachers comprising this 3.8 FTE are incredibly qualified, outstanding educators. It would be a tremendous loss to the district to reduce their teaching time or to lose any of these teachers. As music specialists, these teachers are qualified to teach elementary general music in addition to band or strings. This is a perfect opportunity to place a K-5 music specialist teacher in a greater number of elementary schools, staffed by prep time. If scheduled carefully and creatively, it would be possible for these teachers to teach band and strings in addition to elementary music.
We encourage the VSB to explore the prep time strategy suggested in the 2015-2016 budget proposal and work towards having a music specialist teacher in every elementary school. There is no substitute for music specialists. They are recognized by the BCTF and they are the ones with the pedagogical knowledge needed to implement the BC music curriculum. Generalist teachers are not qualified to teach music. Based on the data collected from VSB administrators in the February, 2015 consultant’s report, it is clear that music education is far from consistent and equitable across the VSB. Some schools have music specialists while others don’t. Some have a band or strings program while others don’t. It is also clear that when compared to many other Greater Vancouver school districts, the VSB is not meeting the mark for music education.
In our March, 2015 response to the VSB, the CMEBC suggested a three-phase, five-year plan that moves towards K-5 general music (including choir) and grades 6-7 band or grades 5-7 strings in every elementary school. The end goal is at least one music specialist teacher in every school and a comprehensive music program for all grade levels. With the appropriate leadership and commitment to music education, the VSB can accomplish this. It is time now to make the decision to get this work done. Simply cutting 3.8 FTE to balance the budget then abandoning the greater issue of music education in the district is regressive. There is an opportunity at stake here and we hope the VSB will give this opportunity the time and care necessary for the best interest of students.
The students of the VSB do not deserve nor can they afford any cuts to their music education. Music is not an expendable area of study. The CMEBC recommends that the VSB take action with the big picture in mind, considering long-term impacts of cutting music in the district. In closing, a quote we have shared before, from a university music student when asked his opinion on the VSB’s proposed music cuts: “Through any type of adversity, people naturally turn to music to express themselves. To remove music because of adversity is backwards.”
About the Coalition for Music Education in British Columbia
The CMEBC is an organization made up of parents, educators, students, arts organizations, and professionals from varying walks of life that support school music programs. The CMEBC’s mission is to protect, promote, advance and support music education in British Columbia. Our goal is to see that every child receives a well-rounded and balanced education that includes a comprehensive, sequential, quality program in music.