green money_bags_with_gold_coins_0071-0812-1816-2542_SMUOn the heels of Lee Whitmore's thoughtful article from May, 2006 egarding the role of music education within the context of No Child Left Behind, I am pleased to report to all of TI:ME's ardent supporters a positive development originating from the state of California- the passage, and soon-to-be signing, of legislation intended to lead the full restoration of standards-based music and arts education for the students of California. This action comes after almost two years of education and advocacy efforts by a large, and ultimately very persuasive, coalition of arts advocacy organizations, including the California Alliance for Arts Education, the California Music Educators Association, MENC, NAMM, and NARAS. The genesis of this landmark legislation, known as Proposition 98, resides in the results of a study commissioned by the California Alliance for Arts Education in conjunction with the Music For All Foundation. These two organizations jointly tracked the rapid and significant decline of student participation in music performance groups following the enactment of Proposition 13 in 1978. Prop 13 placed a cap on residential property taxes at the local level, thereby shifting much of the tax burden for schools to the state level. This initiative promptly led to the demise of the some of the most outstanding band, orchestra, and choral music education organizations in the nation, along with the decimation of general music for every California student. Participation in student ensembles dropped by well over fifty percent, many high-quality music educators were forced from the music classroom to others not within their area(s) of certification, if they remained in education at all. The irony, of course, as repeatedly pointed out by Dr. John Benham in presentations given throughout the country, is that the tax savings that were hoped to be achieved by Proposition 13 backfired as more teachers had to be hired to replace the music educators that were furloughed. Every music teacher with an ensemble of over 100 students had to be replaced by at least three other certified classroom professionals in other subject areas. Ah, the folly....

Prior to moving to California as part of a mid-life career shift, I served twenty-six years in the music classrooms in Pennsylvania. To be painfully honest, I was not prepared for much of what I encountered within my first year as a new resident of California- consider the following:

-It's a warm early September Thursday evening. Along with fifteen 10-11 year olds, I, along with two other adults representing the coaching staff of my son's winter baseball team, stare in disbelief at the crowded fields of a local athletic complex. There is absolute nowhere to practice, twelve baseball fields filled with kids. Don't be fooled by what you read, the parents of southern California children want the best opportunities and experiences available for their children. Right now, athletics appears to be the dominant choice, leaves one wondering what might be had music been able to retain its rightful position in the collective minds and psyches of its schools and communities.

-It's a beautiful early fall Friday evening, a perfect evening for a high school football game, the football team of a local 4,000 student high school runs out onto the field, well over 100 players on the varsity team alone, certain uniform numbers doubled, supported by a 50-member high school band. Would a balanced elementary and middle school music curriculum, including a strong feeder program, available at EACH elementary and middle school that fed that high school, elevate the role and impact of that high school band program?

-I had the opportunity to observe an elementary school's "Holiday Concert". The apparent culmination of months of preparation, each student in the elementary school classroom received a CD to learn some production house's catchy tune (track 1, full sing, track 2, rhythm and scratch vocals only, etc.) The evening of the big gala, many children are adorned in various combinations of red and green, and take their turn on stage offering their rendition of the pre-recorded fare. Only one problem, the instructional vocal tracks have not gone away- from a side-stage monitor mix position, a local dj has his fingers glued to the faders, providing "cover" in the event a given class sounds bad. Given the loss of classroom general music education for a generation of Californians, the majority of whom are now parents of school- age children, the question remains as to whether anybody would know, (or care) about the difference?

Plenty of opportunity here....


How will these numbers translate to enhanced arts education in Southern California? As of mid-September, the trailer bills have been completed, and the Governor's signature is imminent. There are three levels of new state funding in the form of block grants:

  1. $105 million dollars- a new, and renewable, line item, assigned specifically for programs development (teachers, salaries).
  2. $500 million dollars to restore artistic "infrastructure" (bass drums, pianos, string basses, equipment in general.)
  3. $100 million dollars has been allocated for professional development, as well as other grantable areas that the first two funding captions don't cover.

Large dollar amounts can be vague when assessing the local impact of the new monies- broken down; the sum total of these grants approximate $120 per student. A 1000-student middle school now has over $120,000 to invest in these programs. That's not chump change. If you support the notion, either pro and con, that "as goes California goes the rest of the country", the "Golden State" may just live up to its name by assuming the lead role in what might become one of the most powerful public school music restoration movements in history. Optimism abounds at this point, however, there is much work to be done. I am surprised by the number of rank and file California music educators that I have encountered that are completely unaware of these developments. We all share responsibility to ensure that the "word gets out".

Money isn't everything, and California's challenges will remain significant. Attracting and hiring certified music educators will be at the top of the list. The absence of qualified and experienced arts education leaders within individual school districts, with whom the opportunity and responsibility for guiding and shaping a comprehensive music education program should rest, will pose challenges in school districts whose schools are primarily site-managed by either pro-, or anti-arts principals. Some schools will fare better than others. And what about the generation of southern California parents who have no idea what music education could, or should, look like?

I recently visited a new high school in a local school district to explore music technology options for their school. Theirs is an alternative high school in a progressive school district, "alternative" in the context of its innovative programs related to work-to-school, single parents, adult education, etc. Consider the fact that the first five people I randomly met in this building, PRIOR to meeting the music teacher who initiated the meeting, were all credentialed musicians. The principal was a professional organist, the assistant principal held a dual music education/ performance degree (flute) from a highly-regarded Big Ten music school, as did her math-teaching, trombone-playing husband. Another math educator randomly strolled into the faculty lounge where we were gathering- in a matter of moments, I learned that he was a fine single reed player, also having formerly been a band director in the same school district. The commonality of their existence was universal- once upon a time, they had all been music educators, but the wholesale decimation of their programs as a result of Proposition 13 had pushed them away from the music classroom. I was encouraged by both their optimism, hope, and passion that this new initiative would indeed spark the renaissance in music education so sorely needed in this state.

The timing of the California arts initiative could not be better given that NCLB re-certification will soon be on the table. This certainly promises to be an interesting discussion. The challenge, and significant opportunity, will be for music educators from around the nation to focus the attention of their colleagues, parents, and administrators towards the west, with an eye towards facilitating similar opportunities in their own states. You are invited to visit the websites cited below to remain close to this developing story.
Headline news on the home page has some of the victory reports
Bob Morrison's article "How the West Was Won" outlines both the victory and lessons learned.

The Sound of Silence Report which was one of the catalysts for the statewide action:

Please stay tuned (so to speak...)


by Walt Straiton

Walt Straiton is Manager of "Music in Education" with the Yamaha Corporation of America in Buena Park, California. Prior to this appointment with Yamaha, he served as Director of Orchestras at Williamsport Area High School and Messiah College in Pennsylvania. A graduate of Millersville University (PA) and the Eastman School of Music, he has pursued doctoral study at the Pennsylvania State University. A recipient of a coveted John F. Kennedy Center Fellowship for Teachers in the Arts, Walt was a finalist for "Teacher of the Year" in the arts as part of then televised Walt Disney Corporation's "American Teacher Awards" in 1990. Walt served two terms as string chairman of IAJE, earning recognition for his efforts to bring jazz/studio orchestra repertoire to student ensembles. Having appeared as a guest conductor in educational concerts with the New World Symphony Orchestra (Miami Beach, FL), Walt has been honored to serve as a regular guest conductor of student festival orchestras throughout the country, including appearances with All-State Orchestras in Florida, Vermont, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.

A member of the Board of Directors of TI:ME, Walt also continues to serve as instrumental music producer for HersheyPark, Knoebel's , and Dutch Wonderland amusement parks in Pennsylvania, as well as music director of the HersheyPark Pops Orchestra. In these capacities, he has produced and conducted concerts with numerous guest artists, including as Maynard Ferguson, Chuck Mangione, Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton, Phil Woods, the Captain and Tennille, The Spinners, Patti Austin, Neil Sedaka, Bobby Rydell, and Franki Valli and the Four Seasons.

Walt lives in Corona, CA with his wife Lestia, and four children, Katie (21), Grant (10), Davis (5), and Kendall (4).

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