Death of a Chorus

| March 29, 2005 | Reply

My brother sent along this news article for comment and I’m not going to disappoint.

Eastern High School has, for a couple of decades, had a very good and very prominent chorus. They’ve toured around the United States and internationally. They’ve recorded a couple CDs and have performed before the President. Their Director, Joyce Garrett, put into place a program called Excellence Without Excuses that has the choir members practicing after school, visiting colleges to make plans for higher education, and taking leadership and character-based classes.

For kids in one of the poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods this has been a godsend. As the reporter points out, while only 60 percent of seniors from the school have gone on to college, that number jumps up to 90 percent for chour members.

The choir is in serious danger now, though. Thanks to a combination of lack of funding, a hostile school faculty, and a school administration that keeps turning over every year, the Eastern High School Choir is in danger of disappearing. In its place would rise a citywide choir that would harvest the best and brightest singers from DC but would be much more diffuse in its effect on students in particular schools.

You don’t have to think hard to guess that I see this as a horrendously bad idea. We have reams of studies that show that arts – especially music – education reaps immense benefit for the schools that provide it. Those schools can boast higher graduation rates and a sense of school spirit that can be very hard to come by on today’s educational climate.

It would seem to me that a DC education system that’s beset by critics, plagued with rampant corruption and incompetence would grab onto Eastern as a shining example of a success in the system. But no. No, they’re willing to eat the program whole and spit it out into a lukewarm citywide choral program that I can’t imagine would engender any more support than Eastern’s is right now.

The interesting note is that charter schools seem to be eating DC’s lunch.

Contrast Eastern’s sad state with the artistic and academic attractions offered by the growing fleet of charter schools and you see why so many parents are switching. At Stokes Public Charter School on 16th Street NW, the choir has released its third CD, produced by its accomplished music director, Cheryl Jones. The student choir tours along with a spirited faculty chorus. A number of charter schools boast similar lures.

Fisher’s point here is a good one. Charter schools are succeeding because they think beyond the basics. Yes, they teach the basics, too, but they put something else on the table to excite and energize questing young minds. They realize that in order for a student to truly excel academically, they have to have a goal-something to work toward.

That’s what the Eastern High School choir has been providing for decades and that’s what DC public schools will lose when it goes away.

Category: The Good Old US of A

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