Community Help in Music Education (CHIME)

Testimony to the DC Council Committee on Education,
Libraries, Parks and Recreation on the 2004 DCPS Budget

March 25, 2003

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Council,

My name is Dorothy Marschak. I am the Founder and President of CHIME (Community Help In Music Education), a long-time volunteer in our school and other community educational projects, and a former professional educator at the University of California and elsewhere.

LONG-TERM SOCIAL COSTS OF CUTTING THE BUDGET FAR EXCEED THE SHORT-TERM SAVINGS:

I am here to add my voice to those of the majority in this city who believe education is our number one priority, and who don’t believe the way to leave no child behind is to leave no education budget uncut. This city has a population that reflects the growing inequality in this country, in a world that is also becoming more and more polarized. Everyone agrees access to effective education is a necessary condition to deal with this situation, whose consequences now are threatening our very lives. Any savings from starving our schools now will cost us dearly in social costs later. The ill-educated are not likely to contribute much to our taxbase either. We elected a School Board….or a majority of it…to oversee our schools. We now have a Superintendent who has our trust. Why don’t we believe them when they tell us that they cannot operate the schools properly unless the Mayor’s cuts in their budget are restored?

STARVING THE SYSTEM WILL NOT MAKE IT MORE EFFICIENT:

I am not a Mary Levy who has poured over the budget item by item. We are all aware of past waste and inefficiency in DCPS, and no doubt there is still some there…as there is in every other bureaucracy, particularly in our city government. But just cutting funding is not the way to cure it—it often makes the conditions worse, by inducing the best people, who have other opportunities, to leave. A better way, it seems to me, is to get the best people in to run it that you can, and I think that is happening. Fortunately many unproductive teachers who can’t be fired now will soon retire. Let us provide the school system the working conditions and the salaries that will allow us to replace them with the best teachers on the market by giving our schools what they need to go ahead with the process of transformation that has been started, and that I personally believe is taking place.

THE SYSTEM IS UNDERGOING TRANSFORMATION: ILLUSTRATED BY CURRENT SUPPORT FOR ARTS, PARTICULARLY MUSIC, EDUCATION AND FACILITATING PARENT AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT:

Let me illustrate how I experience transformation taking place in the area I know most about..music education.

  • Impact of past budget cuts on music education:
    Even under the bad old days of segregation, all children had music education in school, and the High Schools boasted bands that were the pride of their neighborhoods. Then came the budget cuts, and music and arts were the first to go..regarded as frills. Today we have 30 out of 107 elementary schools with no music instruction at all. Only a handful of elementary schools offer instrumental instruction, and for those that do, there is a shortage of instruments ion good repair—the schools are full of unusable instruments and there is no money in the budget to fix them. I recently received an appeal to find a piano for Anacostia High School from a volunteer who claimed there was not a usable piano in the school.

  • Proven benefits of music education:
    Study after study testifies to the positive benefits resulting from including music instruction in the curriculum, particularly for children who come from families who provide little early exposure to books and the arts. Music is not just a separate discipline…and its study does teach discipline and cooperation…but it can also be a vehicle to promote absorption and understanding of other parts of the curriculum when integrated into it. We learn our ABCs through song. Creative teachers have also used song to teach science, history and other subjects, because setting words to music makes them much easier to remember. Think of the number of poems you know by heart, vs. the number of songs you know the words to!. Since everything in the universe is vibrating, it is literally making music.

  • Current plans to restore required music education and involve the community:
    CHIME has been advocating including music in the curriculum since its inception 6 years ago, including previous presentations to this Committee. Its petition drive has proven that our residents strongly support having it there. Next year, for the first time, our revitalized Central Administration wants to make music…along with art and physical education…a required part of the curriculum. There is also now, for the first time in my experience, a welcoming receptivity to feedback and suggestions from the community. Machinery is being put in place to facilitate participation by parents and the community in the schools, enabling the addition of many more private resources to supplement those paid for by the taxpayers. I urge you not to jeopardize these welcome changes by depriving DCPS of the resources needed to implement them. What you save in this year’s budget would be lost many times over in lost opportunities for contributions from supplementary and enriching community resources.

CUTTING THE BUDGET WILL JEOPARDIZE THESE CHANGES, AND DEPRIVE OUR STUDENTS OF THEIR GREAT BENEFIT:

I have seen first hand how hungry for love and attention many of the children in our inner-city schools are, and how responsive they are when they are reached and inspired by good teachers and principals who open up their minds and hearts and instill a desire to learn and achieve in them. In particular, I have seen how responsive they are to good music instruction, and how many of them get turned around when given the opportunity to have it. Learning through the arts inspires and motivates children to explore the world and their potential to contribute to it. Once inspired, they are motivated to learn to read and understand mathematical relationships, because they are keys that unlock the doors to pursuing what they are interested in, not so they can avoid being punished for low test scores.

ARTS EDUCATION IS VITAL TO COUNTERACT THE DEADENING IMPACT OF TEST-DRIVEN INSTRUCTION:

I believe incorporating the arts into our school curricula is more important than ever now, to counteract the deadening consequences of the current political model forced on our schools of public education as a production line in which the inputs are drills and the outcomes are test scores, and the evaluative criterion is the financial efficiency in which the inputs are turned into measurable outputs. I believe this is a model for intensifying rather than reducing the inequalities in our society and cheating these children of the opportunity to develop their full potential. Including the arts in the curriculum is vital to developing our children’s creative and expressive abilities, their connection to the best in the human heritage, their personal dreams and aspirations, and their responsibility to each other and society at large. It also, by the way, has been shown to increase test scores and academic performance in general.

I URGE THIS COUNCIL NOT TO ALLOW THE DRASTIC REDUCTION IN FUNDING FOR OUR SCHOOLS THAT IS IN THE MAYOR’S BUDGET, AT THIS TIME WHEN I THINK THEY ARE TURNING AROUND.

WHERE WILL THE MONEY COME FROM? Our President and our Mayor have stated education is their first priority, but their budgets don’t reflect that. When it comes to war, we don’t higgle: the President says he needs $75 billion for the next 6 months and the Congress will vote it..never mind the deficit. Why, if education is our number one priority, can’t we treat instruction the same way we treat destruction, and raise the money needed to achieve the goal, rather than saying we can’t afford it?

LET US HAVE IN THE FUTURE AN EDUCATION BUDGET SEPARATE FROM THE GENERAL BUDGET, AND LET US HAVE A DEDICATED TAX TO SUPPORT IT. I BELIEVE THE VOTERS WOULD AGREE TO PROVIDE THE NEEDED FUNDING.

MEANWHILE, PLEASE CONSIDER YOUR OWN VISIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF THIS CITY, AS YOU DECIDE ON THIS BUDGET.

I read in the Post that the Mayor is pinning his legacy on getting a new baseball stadium for the city. Maybe he believes that will create an educated workforce that will attract new business and cultural opportunities to our city and bring in the 100,000 new taxpaying residents he foresees. I wouldn’t bet on it. I think providing good education and schools for our children is the best investment we can make, even from a strictly economic perspective. If I were in the development business, I would be much more willing to be taxed for education with its long-lasting and ongoing impact than for a stadium which provides only temporary construction jobs and then mainly low level jobs and benefits to some retail businesses. Will Washington attract more new taxpaying residents for its baseball team than for its schools? Will more tourists come here for baseball than for our cultural attractions? Can poorly educated children with low-paying or no jobs pay for baseball tickets…or for theater tickets either, should they be inclined to go to the theater?

CLOSING THOUGHT:

I will close with the story of the farmer who was boasting that he was training his horse to get along on less and less food everyday. “It was really working”, he said, “until he up and died on me one day”.