Wednesday, January 03, 2007

NOLA Music Lessons

New Orleans has been home to legendary music teachers, but there is concern in IAJE’s latest Jazz Education Journal (vol. 39 #3) for the future of music education in the Crescent City. There are some telling passages in Antonio J. García’s “Jazz Education in New Orleans, Post-Katrina.” According to sources quoted by García:

“Of the 57 schools slated to open in Louisiana’s State Recovery School District this fall, only five are traditional public schools overseen by an accountable and elected school board. The other 53 are charter schools, which receive both federal and state dollars but operate with more autonomy.” [I assume that’s a typo in the math.]

Given the performance of local officials, I don’t know that the lack of an elected board should be much of a concern. Regardless, the (presumably) 52 charter schools will be offer more educational choice to more students than regular government-issue schools.

“The Catholic [school] administrative system was better suited to meet the challenge of the displaced students, as the pre-Katrina needs of Baton Rouge and New Orleans had already resided under one roof. And the Catholic music programs had often been better funded than their secular counterparts.”

García states “79 percent of Catholic school students have returned to class.” Clearly, the Catholic School system is out-performing their government counterparts—again there is an argument here for expanded school choice.

There are some telling quotes, like from musician and educator Brice Miller:

“If money is donated to the school district, there is very little chance it will find its way to music programs.”

Irvin Mayfield also makes some astute observations:

“a lot of funding checks are coming this way—but we need to stay engaged to ensure that this money is going where we all said it would go. I’m looking at these federal dollars that are supposedly coming into the State of Louisiana, that the State is then saying it doesn’t have, that the federal government is saying the State does have.”

Mayfield is definitely getting it. Katrina was a colossal failure of government on all levels. In response many argue for expanding the size and scope of government as a result—evidently advocating a “hair of the dog” strategy. García credits many excellent private organizations that are doing the real work of rebuilding New Orleans. Giving free money to the local government is a probably bad idea. Making donations to groups like the Jazz Foundation of America, Habitat for Humanity's Musicians' Village, Tipitina’s Foundation, and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, earmarked for their rebuilding efforts is very good idea.