Secondary music programs and school choice in Milwaukee 1990-2010: vouchers, charters, and magnets
Syme, Douglas William
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In this study I explore the perception of the influence of several school choice initiatives on secondary music programs in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). In 1990, MPS had fewer than 20 high schools. In 2010, it had close to 60. This increase, coupled with a rapidly expanding voucher program, the influx of charter schools, and a decrease in the number of secondary music programs made MPS an ideal setting for a study of this type. I conducted a two-stage qualitative study, coupling survey data and 19 interviews with MPS students, teachers, and administrators. The survey revealed data regarding the number of secondary music programs in MPS. In addition, the survey data revealed information regarding the type of programs in existence and what music courses were offered at MPS high schools. The interview data helped me to recognize the perceived influence of these government initiatives. Students, teachers, and administrators discussed course offerings, staffing, funding, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), Milwaukee High School Redesign Initiative (MHSRI), and charter schools. Many teacher and student participants had trouble differentiating between the various initiatives but were of the opinion that secondary music education in MPS was declining. Administrators had more informed opinions regarding the initiatives but—even when they were directly responsible for their implementation—showed very little accountability or willingness to acknowledge that some of these programs were not producing desired results. What was not clear was what individual role, if any, these various governmental policies played. There was a great deal of overlap between these initiatives. There was speculation from some that with MPS facing so many other difficulties, music education may have been placed in a role of secondary importance. Because there is little research coupling school choice with secondary music education, these findings have important implications. This study could aid policy makers, administrators, and governmental officials in making informed decisions regarding secondary music programs and school choice. Too many decisions regarding school music programs are made without the aid of research driven data.