Community Help in Music Education (CHIME)

Testimony at the Hearing of the Committee on Education,
Libraries and Recreation of the DC City Council
on the 2002 School Budget in Favor of Funding
for Required Music Education in Grades K-6

March 15, 2001


There is now abundant evidence of the positive benefits from including the arts in the curriculum at all levels. This testimony supports giving priority, as a first step, to the incorporation of standards-based music education in the required elementary school curriculum in the 20002 DCPS budget because of:

  1. The importance of starting disciplined music instruction at an early age for all children, but particularly for those with potential serious interest. Children without access to music instruction in school or privately—most of our inner-city students—are disadvantaged in developing their full potential and the possibility of entry into some of the most rewarding careers in our society.
  2. The extensive evidence--statistical, neurological and experiential--of the strong association between music study, particularly instrumental, and intellectual, expressive, creative, social and character development and on quantitative performance measures in math and other subjects as cited, e.g., in Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning and Gaining the Arts Advantage: Lessons from School Districts that Value Arts Education, reports by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and Arts Education Partnership, published in 2000 and 1999 respectively.
  3. The widespread public support in DC for required music education, and the willingness to pay for it, as evidenced by almost 2500 signatures obtained to date on a petition supporting a resolution (CHIME-initiated) passed by the membership of the DCPTA at their Annual Conference in May, 2000 calling for immediate inclusion of music into the elementary school required curriculum, and by the wide spectrum of organizations whose Boards have voted to join the Coalition for Arts Now for DCPS Youth (CANDY) supporting the DCPTA resolution as a first step.
  4. The essays written by all children in CHIME’s recorder, singing and other classes at Marie Reed, Bancroft and other schools about the joy and learning they have experienced from music study, corroborated by reports from their classroom teachers of the beneficial effects of this training on school involvement and performance.


Despite these well-known and accepted benefits, there is an unequal and inadequate current state of music education in DCPS elementary schools. Most adults express surprise when informed that music is no longer required in the DC elementary schools, because it was when they were students. Many relate how important those music classes have been in their lives.

  1. In May, 1999, the last date for which I have been able to obtain information, only 79 of the 107 DC elementary schools were listed as having a music teacher, and of these only 8 were listed as instrumental while 4 were listed as vocal/instrumental. Some of these teachers serve more than one school, and most of them were used to teach reading for at least part of the year in preparation for the standardized tests. I do not know of any elementary school where every child receives some kind of music instruction from a music teacher at least once a week, except for those associated with Fillmore Arts Center. I have been in a school as a docent for the National Symphony in a past December, where the nominal music teacher has told me she had not yet met with any of the children.
  2. Even in those few schools listed as having instrumental music teachers, there are none I know of where every child has the opportunity to study an instrument on at least a weekly basis. I do not know of any elementary school orchestras or more than one band (they may exist; I do not know of them).
  3. I have been told personally by music teachers at Dunbar, Woodrow Wilson and Duke Ellington (yes, even Duke Ellington!) High Schools, that they no longer have many entering students with prior instrumental musical experience. Parents and others have told me the same is true of Ballou and other high schools. This has led to the deterioration of high school bands and other ensembles, which used to be the pride of their neighborhoods.
  4. I have also been told by the Executive Director of the Kreeger Museum that the DC Youth Orchestra is no longer invited to participate in the master classes they hold when they have visiting chamber music groups, because they do not have comparable preparation to youth orchestras from neighboring counties. The DC Youth Orchestra has to train many of its participants from scratch because they do not have any prior instrumental training.
  5. DCPS has not budgeted for new instruments in 30 years, and many of the instruments it has are in unusable condition, with a particular shortage of usable pianos. It is insupportable that a school should not have a single playable piano, or rhythm instruments for its younger students.

3. The Arts Community in Washington is eager to help enrich school music, but it cannot provide a substitute for it. A few schools get most of the benefit from these programs, and even there only selected children are able to participate, and not on a continuing basis. DCPS partnerships with schools could be much more effective if offerings could plug into an established curriculum, perhaps jointly developed, rather than consisting of occasional isolated events which don’t tie into an ongoing body of knowledge.


  1. The extra funds voted by the School Board should be supplemented from the city’s reported large surplus to include funding for steps on the path to inclusion of standards-based music education in the required K-6 curriculum by the 2003 fiscal year. By then, music education, including theory, history, performance and composition, should be offered every child at least once weekly, and preferably more often, in order to implement the standards that have already been adopted. Music computer labs should be planned in receptive schools, as one application of the funds voted for technology. Music education should be included in the funds voted for special education.

  2. In the remainder of the current school year, a system-wide assessment should be made of the actual state of music education on a school-by-school basis. This is a precondition for responsible planning and future budgeting. Parent organizations could be enlisted to help with this. This assessment should include:
    • Music teachers:
      • How many are there, if any, in each school? Instrumental or vocal? Certified? Part-time (how many hours/wk?) or full-time? How many of those hours are actually spent teaching music (vs. reading, e.g.)? How many are paid for off budget?
      • What curriculum do they use?
      • Does each child in the school receive music education? If not, who gets it, and how often? The whole year or only part of the year?
    • Instruments:
      • Inventory of instruments in each school: number and condition. How many tunable pianos? Any rhythm instruments?
    • Ensembles:
      • Does the school have a chorus or choir? Band? Jazz band? Orchestra? Other ensembles?
      • If so, who leads them? When and how often do they rehearse?
    • Outside enrichment:
      • What kind of partnerships, if any, does the school have with outside musicians or music organizations? For performance or instruction? List kinds and amount of participation received during the current and previous school year, including volunteers.

  3. The School Board, Mayor and City Council should ensure that school authorities correct any deficiencies revealed by the survey.

  4. Much could be done within the budget total proposed for 2002; however implementation of these recommendations will certainly require additional resources. Our petition drive has indicated that the public would be willing to pay for the cost; however, it is not necessary for the DCPS budget to bear the whole burden. The business, arts, faith-based and other parts of the DC Community could be enlisted as partners in helping to provide funds and other resources; there are grants available to finance such partnerships. CHIME has shown that there is also a storehouse of volunteer resources (musicians, instruments, student assistants, facilities) that can be drawn on to support an elementary school music program which will reach every child and enrich their lives as well as contribute positively to the goals we desire for all children in our schools.