Family Engagement Visual and Performing Arts

Survey: Assessing the Quality of Instrumental Music Education in SFUSD

This past fall, I learned that my girls’ first experience with our school’s instrumental music program was less than desirable. I only found this out after my daughter harassed me mercilessly and asked me to come to her classroom to see for myself. Around October, she started complaining that students spent all their class time “sorting through broken instruments” and only had a few minutes each class to play. How bad could it be, “I asked?” and “What do you expect when the teacher has only one half-hour class per week to teach you?” “Please be patient… you’ll get to playing violin. Give it time.”

Finally, I was able to visit the classroom this past January (after leaving my job) and was horrified to find her claims were NOT exaggerated.

I won’t go into details here, but suffice it to say, MOMMY WAS NOT HAPPY.

I immediately brought my concerns to our principal, who was also unaware of the problem. We have been working together ever since to get things back on track. I’m happy to say there have been many improvements. (Including an extra district provided teacher to help catch the kids up to speed.) That said, the fact that this whole situation had to be discovered by a parent is a bit of a concern for me.

How Does the District Monitoring Program Quality for Instrumental Music?

In my discussion with other parents across the district, I have learned the quality of Visual and Performing Arts Programs (VAPA) may be wildly different from school to school. Some parents with the exact same music teacher as us reported that their kids were learning to play several songs while my girls hadn’t even played a single one by February, this year. (!)

I am not a music teacher, so it has been difficult to address the lack of instruction in my daughters’ instrumental music class. As a former English teacher, I usually look at the standards to get a general ballpark of what is “expected” by grade level in terms of what kids should know and be able to do. Better yet, our district has mapped out curriculum plans by unit for English and Math from PreK all the way through twelfth grade. With this in mind, any parent could ask what their child should be working on in a given grade level and subject (ELA or Math) and get a fairly consistent answer throughout the district.

This approach has not worked so well in my dealings with VAPA. I have asked repeatedly for information about expected learning outcomes. This is basically a part of EVERY TEACHER’S job description: PLAN STUDENT LEARNING. The California Education Code also states that parents have the right to ask teachers what they are teaching (crazy huh?). That said, I have been waiting since January and have yet to see any such information from my daughters’ teachers or the VAPA department. :/

I’m still waiting and will share updates here when I get more information…

SFUSD Instrumental Music Survey

While I wait, I’ve decided to do a little “field research” on my own. As I’ve said before, in conversations I’m having with parents across the district, it seems like there may be wide disparities in program quality for the instrumental music program (among others). That said, this is largely anecdotal. I’m interested in seeing if this is my experience was just a one-off occurrence (as can sometimes happen) or if this range in quality is wide-spread throughout the district.

So, I’ve created a survey to gather feedback…

Click HERE to fill out a survey on Instrumental Music programs in SFUSD.

Please click the link above to fill out a short online survey. (It should take less than five minutes.) If you are a parent, I encourage you to share this survey with other families at your sites and across sites so we can get a better picture of program quality throughout SFUSD.

Once I’ve gathered a sufficient amount of responses, I will share summary results (not raw data) on this blog and with VAPA administrators. If you choose to share this survey with other parents at your site, either via your PTA or PTO or other parent groups, I will also be happy to break out individual raw data for your school and share it with you, and even provide some tips/coaching on how you can use the data to support improvements at your child’s school.

What do you think? Does any of this make sense to you?

Related read: Gathering Input from Kids about School Enrichment ProgramsInvesting in Music Education Is Smart!Is Education Killing our Kids’ Creativity?

2 thoughts on “Survey: Assessing the Quality of Instrumental Music Education in SFUSD

  1. I’m very curious about how SFUSD handles providing instruments to students and how that plays out with AB 1575. The district says that it rents instruments but I can’t find any information about it. I hear a lot of chatter around my school of parents buying or renting from local shops. Are parents required to provide instruments? Is there any district equipment standards?

    1. My understanding is that schools and the district generally provide low-income kids with rentals at very low cost. That said, there are not enough to go to EVERY single child, so teachers encourage families to rent privately to alleviate the burden on schools and make more available for those who need them. This year, I was told there would be more family communication around this. I encourage you to get in touch with the VAPA department to share your questions and experiences (both positive and negative) to help them improve programs districtwide.

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