Jazz at Coalition and Landmark Schools
Written by Paul on 11-01-2001

The current state of education in New York City and around the country has been deeply influenced by two issues – the standards movement and resource allocation. Both of these influences have weakened art education and creative expression in the school day.

The standards movement, while broad and holistic in theory, has morphed into a high stakes testing movement. Schools, students and teachers are judged almost entirely on student scores on standardized tests which reward memorization, low level skills development and what Howard Gardner would call linguistic intelligence, i.e., the ability to think in words and to use language to express oneself. Schools teach to what is tested. Music and the arts are not tested therefore they are given short shrift in the curriculum of many schools. And even those art forms, which do remain, tend to be linguistic in substance, like poetry or literature or linguistic in style, reading about music or musicians, for example. Creative, constructivist and collaborative learning has been marginalized.
School budgets this year are substantially less than they have been in years past and these cut backs will continue and deepen as billions of dollars are allocated to our national defense in light of the World Trade Center disaster. When resources are scarce the tendency of most schools is to cut “peripheral” areas of study like music, art, physical education and after school programs and to maintain the core areas of math, science, literature and history. Art teachers are among the first to be excessed in difficult financial times. Schools become single-track institutions focusing exclusively on the basic academic areas. This is a natural, although not necessarily educationally correct, response to cutbacks. It impacts some students more than others.
There does continue to be verbal attention paid to the role of art in education. We continue to hear public officials making eloquent statements about the importance of the arts. However, at the school level, with colleges looking primarily at evidence of formal academic skills (SAT scores and GPA and class ranking) and schools and students being judged by performance on standardized tests which primarily focus on text based modalities, it becomes more and more difficult to keep art education alive. That is why Bette Midler’s offer to co-sponsor music in our schools comes at such a precipitous time.

Last spring Bette Midler approached the Principals of Coalition High School and Landmark High School to begin exploring the possibility of our working together in a pilot program meant to eventually support the wide spread incorporation of music into New York City public schools. Bette’s offer was multi-faceted. It includes:funds from her personal foundation to supplement funds for the creation of innovative music program and jazz orchestra at our schools,the donation of three Yamaha pianos to our schools,the use of her name and presence to support the program,support for additional arts in our schools, e.g., we met with the Board of Directors of the Art Students League and we hope to incorporate visual art instruction into our programs this year,the creation, development and piloting of curriculum and materials that can be used in other public high schools in New York City, and eventual support for music programs in other NYC schools.

The immediate benefits to our schools are enormous. They include:
support for the arts and our commitment to provide multiple modalities of learning to our students,a commitment to a music program that will that will bring music into the halls of our two schools and will positively impact on the environment of Landmark and Coalition High Schools,
a music program which will have a salutary effect on attendance, academic achievement and timeliness, In order to join the orchestra and to remain a part of this project students will be required to demonstrate a high level of academic success and commitment,
strengthening the ability of students to focus on a task for a substantial period of time, a critical skill,
increased opportunities for acceptance and financial support for college going for students in the program, parent and family involvement, always an issue struggled with by high schools, will increase as students in the program become proficient enough to publicly perform, opportunities to involve our local community, our neighbors, by inviting them to performances, opportunities to raise outside funds for our schools, (Bette, at one point, spoke of a musical ‘block party’ to raise funds for our schools,) multiple alignments that we can make with our current curricula and New York State standards, e.g., jazz and the American experience, patterns in music and mathematics, the lives of famous jazz musicians during the Harlem Renaissance, the science of sound, etc. music as an expression and an area of study of the rich, diverse, multi-cultural community of America.

Finally, there is the intangible of Bette Midler’s celebrity and involvement on the tone of the two communities. With the devastating effects of September 11th and the weak budget both impinging on schools to sadden, discourage and negatively impact, this new initiative promises to up-lift and energize the two schools and eventually many, many others.

This is a time to dream, to move forward and to find things to celebrate. After the tragedy at the World Trade Center many people said that our lives would never be the same. They are certainly correct. We believe that the addition of this music program into our schools will irrevocably and positively change the lives of the students involved as well as the schools themselves. We eagerly look forward to its beginning.




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