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Byers wants music program restored

January 25, 2000|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Washington County Board of Education member B. Marie Byers is reviving discussion about restoring an instrumental music program cut from elementary schools in 1995.

Byers said Tuesday she had planned to bring up the subject at a morning work session on Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr.'s $120-million budget proposal. The session was canceled because of a heavy snowfall.

"So many people are still inquiring about it," said Byers. "The discussion needs to be reinvigorated."

Byers' house guest agreed. She played hostess Tuesday to Joan E. Schmidt, a National School Boards Association board member who is active on a music task force.

Schmidt was preparing to speak to the Maryland State Board of Education about the benefits of teaching music to young students. Research suggests it improves spatial temporal reasoning, she said.

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Washington County's elementary music program was established in 1949. In 1995, the School Board voted 3-2 to eliminate the program. Byers voted against the cut.

Board members at the time said the cut was based on what the Washington County Commissioners were willing to fund.

Community advocates have been trying to bring back the program since. In 1998, the Washington County Alliance for Elementary Instrumental Music formed and lobbied for the program's restoration.

As a result of the campaign, the School Board inserted $295,000 in its 1998-99 budget for the program . The board later cut the item May 14, 1998, but it formed a curriculum committee to suggest ways to fund it.

Byers said the board chose an option under which three additional teachers would be hired, and would rotate among the schools to reinstate the program. "The time is right," she said.

Schmidt testified before an education caucus of the House of Representatives last July, telling Congress that instrumental music education raises student achievement.

Schmidt cites three studies that suggest music education enhances learning. In one study, University of Wisconsin psychologist Frances Rauscher and University of California physicist Gordon Shaw collaborated to test 78 four-year-olds.

The students were divided into four groups, but only one group was given piano lessons. That group scored 34 percent higher than others in spatial intelligence, the ability to visualize accurately.

Similar results came from a study of kindergarten students in suburban Wisconsin, according to Schmidt. She said disadvantaged students from one of Los Angeles' worst performing schools also excelled after having some piano instruction.

Schmidt, a Fairfield, Mont., resident, is a church organist and choir director. She characterized herself as a quality education advocate, not a music education advocate. Music is not more important than other subjects, but it is essential, she said.

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