Wednesday, 6 April 2016

An Open Letter to the Vancouver School Board Regarding the 2016-2017 Proposed Budget Cuts

Dear Mr. Lombardi and the Vancouver Board of Education Trustees:
On behalf of the Coalition for Music Education in British Columbia, my name is Christin Reardon MacLellan, and I once again write on behalf of students, teachers, parents, community members, arts organizations and industry partners who are fiercely opposed to the proposed cuts to music education in this year’s budget proposal. We implore the VSB to remain committed to their 2014 promise of finding a long-term, sustainable solution for the Elementary Band and Strings program as well as an equitable approach to music education more broadly in the school district. We also implore you to retain the district’s Fine and Performing Arts Coordinator position.
The Coalition for Music Education in BC has closely followed the course of action concerning music education in the VSB in recent years. We have responded swiftly on a number of occasions and participated in consultation process during the 2014-2015 school year. All previous documentation of our correspondence can be found here:
Despite the powerful advocacy that has taken place in support of music education in the VSB, here we are again. This is the fifth time in the last seven years that music programs have been threatened. Regardless of advocacy efforts, stakeholder values, research, curriculum, and policy, we are presented with the same old story- the VSB can’t fund music education in elementary schools. We acknowledge the widely held belief that the province of BC underfunds education. The CMEBC understands the financial predicament facing school districts and is committed to advocating for increased music education funding across the province. This letter, however, focuses on the VSB’s choice to slash music programs again this year.
The value of music education is a topic that continuously gains merit, validity and traction. A growing body of research supports the benefits of music education on cognitive development, socio-emotional growth, and academic achievement. More than ever before, we have data that supports music’s transformative abilities on individual learning and development as well as on topics related to culture and society. In previous years, the CMEBC has shared with you specific benefits of learning music in an instrumental ensemble, including non-verbal communication, self-expression through an instrument, development of fine motor skills, positive social interactions, and participation in the creation of something bigger than oneself. Most importantly, as you well know, these benefits occur simultaneously in ensemble-based learning.
Surely, the Vancouver School Board understands the value of the Elementary Band and Strings program and its potential to thrive as part of a larger plan for music education in the district. As a direct result of the community’s 2014 advocacy efforts, the VSB hired a consultant (Dr. Valerie Overgaard) to explore sustainable solutions for the Elementary Band and Strings Program, as well as music education more broadly in the district. The consultant’s report documented the decline in music education in the VSB over the last ten years, explored how music education is offered in other Lower Mainland school districts, addressed consultations with stakeholders, and perhaps most importantly, concluded the following: “There is one point of consensus that arose in this process. Music education is not only important, it is essential….This includes band and strings, but extends more broadly to a general music education program taught by a music specialist.” The report suggested that “this process should be seen as a catalyst to enhance music education across the district.”
Yet, we find ourselves, a year later, right back where we started. It seems that the recommendations in this report and the initial steps taken to implement these recommendations have been abandoned, with the entire Elementary Band and Strings program once again up for elimination. We understand that schools have faced challenges with implementing new plans for this program, however we do not believe that ample time has been provided for schools to work through these challenges, nor has the district demonstrated an ongoing commitment to helping design and implement an equitable solution for elementary music education across the district.
The Vancouver School Board needs to adopt a district policy on music education that ties into its existing policy on arts education. The inequities within music education in the VSB are deplorable and they exist mostly in elementary schools. Only 58% of elementary schools have a music specialist teacher. Approximately 25% of elementary schools have neither a music specialist nor a band/strings teacher. In a recent survey, fewer than 50% of principals described their school’s music program as high quality. This is unacceptable. Furthermore, in many schools, the band and strings program is the ONLY music education offered.  So, cutting band and strings would mean cutting music completely in those schools. The VSB needs to fix elementary music education and the inconsistencies that exist from school to school. An effective model must be established for all schools and all students that includes general music taught by a music specialist as well as the opportunity for all students to participate in band and strings. It’s time to invest in the personnel and resources necessary to bring about change, rather than running from this problem and cutting programs. The perception in the community is that senior administration and the school board are more committed to the easy way out than to finding an educationally sound solution for elementary music education. The district needs an advocate from within and the time is now. Actually, the time was seven years ago, but we’re still waiting.
It is necessary for us to once again address the issue of music specialist teachers. Music cannot be taught by a generalist classroom teacher unless that person has extensive training in music and music education pedagogy. It is essential that teachers are literate in what they are teaching. Music learning involves skills and techniques that are learned over time and that require expert teaching. Placing music education in the hands of non-specialist teachers is a gross over simplification and dumbing down of music education. Music specialists are recognized by the BCTF and we encourage the VSB to require music taught by music specialists across the district. This model would not be a new concept. In 5 out of 9 Greater Vancouver school districts, there is a music specialist teacher PLUS a band or strings teacher in every school. We strongly urge the VSB to take the same leadership these other districts have taken by recognizing the importance of music education and choosing to protect it.
This year’s budget proposal also recommends the elimination of the district’s Fine and Performing Arts Coordinator. The CMEBC was devastated to see Peggy Bochun’s position up for elimination, as the direct impact on students is severe. Eliminating this position in addition to band and strings means that our students lose out twice. The Coordinator is the district’s lead liaison with the arts community. She is responsible for community partnerships with countless arts organizations, coordinates district festivals, fosters collaboration among the district’s fine and performing arts teachers, organizes PRO-D, and manages a large amount of grant funding. The loss of Peggy Bochun would be tremendous, and you won’t know what you’ve lost until she’s gone. The CMEBC cannot stress enough how fortunate the VSB is to have a professional like Peggy Bochun. She is not replaceable, and her position is not expendable.
The Coalition for Music Education in BC implores the VSB to remain committed to their promise of finding a long-term, sustainable solution for the Elementary Band and Strings program as well as an equitable approach to music education more broadly in the school district. We also implore you to retain the district’s Fine and Performing Arts Coordinator position. These proposed cuts are a quick move to erase two budget lines, but with serious consequences. As we have said before, it is time for the VSB to CHOOSE MUSIC EDUCATION the way so many other school districts have done. While we recognize that you are underfunded, I know that I speak for many stakeholders in saying that we are sick and tired of music as well as many other valuable programs and services being placed in the middle of your battle with the current Ministry of Education and provincial government. Cutting band and strings programs as well as the person who helps them thrive is a destructive decision when the school district is in desperate need of a complete overhaul of elementary music education. You are denying students of essential learning opportunities and denying the community of what it has advocated so passionately for.
A Call to Action
The Coalition for Music Education in BC urges parents, students, community members, and concerned citizens to make their voice heard in support of the elementary band and strings program in the VSB.

EVERY VOICE COUNTS and time is of the essence. The budget goes to vote on April 28.

Please consider the following:

1.    Write to Mike Lombardi, Chair of the Vancouver Board of Education Trustees, urging the board to retain the Elementary Band and Strings program and Fine and Performing Arts Consultant position, as well as to develop a district policy for music education that offers all students equitable access to music education taught by a specialist teacher.

2.       Attend and/or register to speak at the upcoming Public Consultation Budget Meetings on Tuesday, April 12 (or Thursday, April 14 if required) by emailing budget

3.       Follow the Coalition for Music Education in BC on Facebook and Twitter for updates and action items.

4.       Share this information with your friends, families, and neighbours and encourage them to make their voices heard in support of school music education of our children.

Who we are:
The Coalition for Music Education in British Columbia Society (CMEBC) is a registered non-profit society made up of parents, students, educators, arts organizations, and supporters from across our communities whose mission is to protect, promote, and advance music education in British Columbia.
For questions or comments, please email

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