Wednesday, May 18, 2016

No Cuts to Kids - St. Paul Public Schools

Dear members of the SPPS Board;

Like many St. Paul residents, we really do want our children to attend the local public schools, but the decisions made by the administration and school board over our time as St. Paul residents have given us no reason to believe that Education of all students is the primary concern of the board.  Nor does there seem to be any creative vision regarding marketing the assets owned by the SPPS – particularly regarding the facilities which are ready to accommodate vibrant instrumental music opportunities 4th – 12th grade.

For those of us interested in Academics and who also teach in higher education, we have been witness to the decline in academic preparedness which have coincided with recent decisions made by school boards over the past 15 years.   In this email I will address two important the introduction of iPads into the classroom and cuts to elementary instrumental education pushes us away. If you want to close the achievement gap, attract students to SPPS, increase parent volunteers – Fix these two things.  Below is a more detailed account.

1) Regarding Instrumental Music Programs and (moving from 7 to 6 period days) – actually loses money for the school.

When we consider the broader arts and music tradition community in the Twin Cities metropolitan area which boasts two (2) world renown symphony orchestras, thriving Choral and Jazz traditions, a pop music scene in which it seems practically every other person is in a band, a 24 hour Jazz and Classical radio stations, -- need I even mention the recent loss of our own public schooled artist, Prince? 

The Twin CIties should be embracing our music heritage and encouraging our music programs. New Orleans, Memphis, and Davenport, Iowa, are not the only cities renown for Music on the Mississippi - The Twin Cities are at its Headwaters. –And St. Paul is BEST primed to tap into this market.

Instrumental Music programs are a major draw in attracting students to schools. With the increased fracturing of public education through school choice, we have endued up with a lot of little mediocre schools vying for the same money and ultimately offering the same limited classes (with a non union teaching force and larger class sizes). Worse yet, In practically every case for these schools, instrumental music programs are left out. The financial burden for those who acknowledge the benefits of instrumental music education is pushed onto those parents who can afford it. Those who cannot are robbed of equal access to what was once considered a necessary component of a complete education.

Now, I imagine most St. Paul Public School facilities still have a suitable band/orchestra room and auditorium, This places them in the BEST position to attract and retain students who value a high quality education.  Build the music programs and we will return
Here is a link to the famous 2004 Edina Schools report which conclusively demonstrated that cutting Instrumental music programs actually LOST money for the school.

More links regarding the peer reviewed and scientific benefits of instrumental music found here:

2) Regarding iPads:
The introduction of iPads issue is a major set back from any Fiscally educated or Academic minded citizen. The push for having the iPads seemed to be giving all kids access to technology, so they are prepared for the work environment. The thing is, the extent of the usage

I see from entering college students, with the iPad or even a desktop computer is really something that can be learned in just 1 day on the job.

They know how to "click and drag": but they do not comprehend the inner workings of the computer / processing. When they do a "Google Search" for their research projects, they do not understand that the same limited principles of "Targeted Advertising" narrows their exposure to a diversity of perspectives, based upon their own interests (many do not see a difference between websites lthat provide opinion based answers vs. actual peer reviewed journals - Come to think of it, a growing number of adults do not seem to realize that either. -

What I expect both as a college educator and an employer is that if the SPPS are shelling out, what is it 7-8 million a year on iPads as part of the technology budget, then all of these students should have some skill in manipulating the programs at the Mac equivalent of a Shell scripting. -- Even shell scripting is fairly simple and straight forward provided one has learned the analyze syntax and grammar of any human language.

Finally , from my college instructor perspective.  I teach in the humanities.  Increasingly I have been finding students who really are not prepared for college study and open classroom dialog  At the start of each semester I ask my students, "Why are you taking this class."  15 years ago, about 80% of my students would respond that they want to learn about different perspectives, things that they don't know and want to apply to their own field so that it helps them and the world.
Now I am lucky to get 1 student who provides me with that answer.  The typical response of my college students is now, "I am taking this class to fulfill my liberal arts requirement, and by the way I need to get a 3.0 in this class so that I can keep my scholarship) so that I can get my degree, so that I can get a good job and make money. It is also heartbreaking because these students typically do not put in the work required to keep their 3.0 -- They do not seem to understand the value of delving into the breadth of human knowledge; how to integrate it into their own fields  So that they can be successful in their careers.  It is not the piece of paper which gets them the job, but they transferable skills and knowledge they bring.
This is where the elementary, middle school and high school climate should focus.  Yes indeed economics and personal finances are a huge factor in decisions, but the road to getting their is not necessarily based upon acquiring job specific skills. That said, here is an op ed from the 17th President of the University of Iowa, Hunter Rawlings, on why we should not treat education as a "commodity"
Thank you for your time in reading this.  Please demonstrate some vision so that we can Build St. Paul Public Schools and contract the exodus of students.
Xen Sandstrom-McGuire

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