School music programs should be nurtured, not eliminated

The fallout from poor FCAT scores could find its first casualty should Buffalo Creek Middle School follow through on a plan to scrap orchestra in order to provide more remedial reading classes - an option that unfairly penalizes music students who performed well on the test.

The school expects reading scores to fall when released in June. In order to free up time for those remedial classes, the principal is targeting orchestra for elimination next year.

Compounding this difficult problem is the fact that the orchestra instructor is also a certified reading teacher vital to improving standardized test scores.

Music is so much more than an elective, though. Many esteemed educators embrace the discipline as a stepping stone to success in life and developing intelligence. Various studies verify that music helps shape character, increases academic achievement and improves skills -- especially with disadvantaged youth.

The arts in general boost self-esteem, develop creative thinking and improve problem-solving and communications abilities. A study in Texas showed students who participated in band or orchestra had fewer lifetime substance abuse problems.

Buffalo Creek Middle School is caught up in the general societal trend to cut back on the arts in the face of time and budget constraints. In Florida, the education reform movement, aimed at raising student achievement with higher and higher standards, creates too much pressure on schools. Electives become the easy target in order to carve out time for additional teaching to tests.

But even the nation's premier education reform law, No Child Left Behind, includes the arts in its definition of "core academic subjects."

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee put it eloquently in 2007 with this statement: "When I hear people asking how do we fix the education system, I tell them we need to do the opposite of what is happening, cutting budgets by cutting music programs. ...

"Nothing could be stupider than removing the ability for the left and right brains to function. Ask a CEO what they are looking for in an employee and they say they need people who understand teamwork, people who are disciplined, people who understand the big picture. You know what they need? They need musicians."

Not only that, but a 2006 Harris Interactive survey of high school principals found schools with music programs have much higher attendance and graduation rates than schools without those classes.

Students in music outperform their peers on college entrance exams, and those in top-notch music programs score higher on standardized tests such as the FCAT.

Manatee County school Superintendent Tim McGonegal asked Buffalo Creek Principal Matthew Gruhl to review the middle school's master schedule to see if some orchestra classes can be accommodated. We hope Gruhl finds that time.

Middle school music classes can inspire students to pursue the discipline into high school and college. This year alone, about a dozen Manatee High School seniors won various music scholarships. With college costs soaring, scholarships are all the more valuable.

If anything, music programs should be cultivated, not cut.