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K-State Today

August 8, 2012



Sounding the warning: Researchers advocate for importance of music education as schools cut music programs across Kansas

By Communications and Marketing

There's a little less harmony inside Kansas school walls these days. Two Kansas State University researchers say programs are facing cuts that could put the future of music education in Kansas in danger.

Frederick Burrack, Kansas State University director of graduate music studies and the office of assessment, and Phillip Payne, assistant professor of music education, discovered through annual school surveys for the past four years that the number of eliminated music educator positions in Kansas has more than doubled.

"Last year, more positions were cut than all three previous years combined," said Burrack. "Graduate placement has not yet been effected but the increasing number of music teaching positions cut is an issue of concern."

In the past four years, the state has lost 444 music educator positions from the 69 percent of state school districts that responded to the surveys.

"This could mean that there are nearly 500 fewer music teachers across the state maintaining the same number of school music programs," Burrack said. "Music teachers are now filling two positions with no additional compensation and often less student contact time. The possibility of teacher burnout or a reduced level of quality could become an issue."

Burrack stressed that schools are not necessarily firing teachers, but are often not refilling positions after a teacher leaves or retires. Every year since the surveys have been conducted, the leadership of the Kansas Music Educators Association has taken Burrack and Payne's results to state legislators. Two years ago, they took the results to the Kansas Department of Education.

"The Kansas commissioner of education was shocked," Burrack said. "The department had no idea this was happening in schools. When officials checked to make sure schools were offering what they claimed, they were. The music programs are still there, but classes are meeting less during the week or are adding fees for student participation. With less time in the music classroom, learning retention is hindered. Adding more fees may eliminate the opportunity for many students to gain the valuable learning impact that music can provide."

Position cutbacks in schools are also not an equal playing field, Burrack said. While a school district may have several math teachers, it often will have only one for its music programs.

Payne said schools with high-quality music programs have higher student retention rates and greater levels of academic achievement. He added that high-quality music programs also increase self-awareness in students and increase the likelihood that they will enjoy their education and become engaged in activities.

"Well-organized and effective music programs change the climate of schools," Payne said. "Schools lacking strong programs are often challenged in this area."

Payne said the nearly 500 positions lost in Kansas in the last four years could take more than a decade to replenish because of the mechanisms of the state's school finance system. He said policymakers, administrators, teachers and the public must become aware of the problem and its consequences.

Last year, researchers from Nebraska and Missouri joined Burrack and Payne in conducting the survey in their respective states. Now other states are interested in duplicating the research. Burrack said if multiple regions become involved, researchers and lawmakers could have a better idea about what's happening in music education nationally and discuss preventative measures.

"Funding is the reason used for these budget cuts," Burrack said. "However, there may be a lack of awareness of the value of a musical education. There's a value restructuring that needs to happen and the general public needs to be a part of it. The strongest voices are the parents of students."

Burrack said that schools are not intentionally eliminating music programs. In fact, he said they are doing their best to retain the programs, but that they often do not understand the sequential nature of the music curriculum and the value it has to a child's development.

The researchers are preparing to send out the fifth year of the survey to schools around the state. They will continue advocating against increased school funding cuts, as well as increasing awareness in Kansas and in other states.

The Kansas Music Educators Association, of which Burrack and Payne serve as co-advocacy chairs, recently received an award from the National Association of Music Education for Burrack and Payne's research and its contributions to music advocacy.