Parents Protest Gutting Of Music And Physical Education Programs In Lakewood Elementary Schools
Last Monday a large group of parents gathered at the Lakewood Board of Education meeting to express their surprise, disappointment and anger over proposed changes in what is called the “specials” schedule in Lakewood elementary schools. “Specials” refers to art, music and physical education, subjects that are outside the main courses of study.
Currently Lakewood elementary students have 100 minutes of music instruction a week. The new schedule the Board has decided to put in place will cut that by 60% in order to make room for STEM and something called “digital literacy.” Physical education will be cut by 54%. The new schedule gives equal weight to STEM, phys ed, music education, and digital literacy.
The community has been told that this new schedule represents an improvement for students because it offers “equity” among the different subjects. This presupposes that there is a group of parents who feel that free-standing STEM classes on an elementary level and “digital literacy” are so important that they must have the same weight as long established classes like music and physical education.
Years of research prove the importance of music education on developing brains, especially in younger children. Research on the alarming increase in obesity in children proves the necessity of physical fitness and education about its importance for young children. The goal of having children participate in these subjects is not to produce athletes and musicians, but to promote sound bodies and minds so that they will do better in all of their subjects.
Parents and educators lined up to make their opinions known on all aspects of this decision.
Dr. Charles Greanoff, longtime LHS educator, came to the podium to sum up what was wrong with the proposal:
“You spent time honoring your process of coming to this decision, and you believe that it’s been a sound process. I wasn’t there. But I know that any process is only as good as the premise under which it operates. The premise that there is this need for “equality,” like you divide up these things equally and everybody has an equal chance for everything is a flawed premise.
The premise that I believe we should be operating on is what’s developmentally appropriate and optimal for the developing brain of children at that age. For cognitive development of children…Brain plasticity is the malleability of the brain and it decreases after age 10, and for music after the age of 7 or 8. This research is from the Journal of NeuroScience in 2013. There’s no sensitive period for digital learning, there’s a sensitive period for music. Music stirs neuronal activity. There is cause and effect between neural activity and music. It’s flawed to say, 'Let’s divide things up equally.'"
Where is the proof that STEM education and digital literacy have the same importance as music and phys ed? parents asked. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Math. Parent after parent came to the podium to ask that STEM —which is roughly understood as more hands-on learning with an emphasis on problem solving— be incorporated into existing math and science classes, especially because this would subject these lessons to rigorous third and fourth grade state standards. Currently there are no state standards to assess the outcome of STEM learning. There is also no research pointing to STEM being important to the developing brains of young children
As for “digital literacy,” a clear definition has not been forthcoming. It has to do with “online safety” and preparing to use Google classroom. Parents expressed the idea that this could surely could be accomplished in the first few weeks of school and there is absolutely no proof that “Digital Literacy” should receive equal time with music education and physical education. It would be taught by media specialists who are not teachers. They are in a different union and do not receive the same training as classroom teachers. Students practice “digital literacy” in every class in which they use chrome books.
As one of the commentators, Dr. Birch Browning, a music educator at Cleveland State who moved to Lakewood because of the quality of the music education in our schools stated:
“As I understand it the faculty contract is up for negotiation in 2 years, and there may be changes in the ways that the buildings are allocated for elementary schools so I would propose to you that you do a more comprehensive re-evaluation of the curriculum…”
The Board maintains that survey results prove that there is a group of parents who want to sacrifice music and physical education in order to have STEM, but as more parents came to the podium it became clear that there was no such group, only parents who didn’t understand that to say they were interested in STEM would also mean that they wanted music and gym classes to be cut.
As Dr. Birch put it: “I’m sorry, but your process was flawed. The survey question was: ‘Do you prefer the current schedule or one that would have related art year round with the potential addition of STEM learning on a rotation?’
The survey didn’t mention that there was a chance that music would be reduced by 60 percent along with other changes in the arts and instruction in physical education.
I’m not an expert on survey research design, but I do know enough to tell you that that survey would have failed in an introductory research course. The question was incomplete and misleading.”
He went on to propose a different approach: “Perhaps a first survey should have asked parents to rank and comment on their priorities for specials instruction. That could have been used as a baseline to start the conversation about changing the schedule.”
The community comment portion concluded with Jane, a Lakewood High School sophomore: “I play oboe in Wind Ensemble,” she said. “It really breaks my heart that you are cutting these programs.” She started crying and paused before continuing. "I flourished in these music programs. I made friends, I went through the original specials schedule and I loved it. I loved having the opportunity of music and I don’t think cutting it is going to help anything. I think it’s going to cut students that are going to go into music in middle school and high school and I think that’s going to be really awful.”
Parents are particularly frustrated that this proposal is being presented as a finished plan that the District will implement in the Fall. They feel that the community has not been consulted on a change that will have a negative impact on their children. The research that shows that young children need to move their bodies and participate in music not only to stimulate their brains but in order to be able to burn off energy and be more able to focus is something that educators have agreed on for decades. After three committee meetings, the District has decided that they know better and have no plans to engage further with the community on this subject.
At the end of last Monday’s meeting, parents, students and teachers were exchanging emails and phone numbers and discussing meetings, a potential petition, and plans for further action to cause the Board to reconsider.
If you are reading this and have more to add to this discussion, please write your ideas down and submit them to the Lakewood Observer at www.lakewoodobserver.com in the Member Center (which is in the lefthand menu on the home page). We will keep this discussion going in this space. If you have any questions, or need help submitting your ideas, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to watch last Monday’s Board meeting you can find it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BYMBJoUzkc