By Marcia Neel
There is not a better time to be providing this article. With the passage of ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), the reauthorization of the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) in December of 2015, every music educator in the country should be heading the call to pull together the appropriate resources to position music programs to be center-stage for providing ALL children with a well-rounded education. The new law provides numerous references to the specific ways in which music and arts education are exactly the types of programs that are necessary for students to amass the kinds of experiences that will lead them to a well-rounded educational experience.
One such example is the term, “well-rounded education,” pervasive throughout ESSA, which provides for a more expansive curriculum, including music. This new language is quite different from that of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) where academic success was measured solely through student performance in math and reading. ESSA also specifies which subjects are considered central to a well-rounded education and music is articulated as one of these subjects. This thus makes it clear that music should be a part of the education of ALL children. Schools should thus be able to access Title I funds to tackle parts of the music program which may be lacking so that students may indeed realize quality experiences within the realm of the well-rounded subjects. To view more in-depth information about ESSA and read about additional provisions which may impact music and arts programs in your community, please refer to the documents available on the NAfME website or simply search for Everything ESSA.
What must be understood, however, is that because federal education initiatives are no longer in place (i.e. NCLB), it will now fall to each individual state to align their current education plan with ESSA. Most states are currently in the process of organizing/working with advisory groups to develop and recommend strategies to be considered for implementation in the 2017-18 school year when ESSA will go into full effect. (Federal funding for the 2016-17 school year will be similar to the 2015-16 school year.) Although we may not become involved at this level, it is important to know who is serving in this capacity in our states so that we can be assured that music education is at the table in these discussions.
So, what does this really mean for us as music educators? The first order of business should be to perform a needs assessment. What needs to be addressed in order to provide ALL students with a quality, well-rounded education that includes music in your school? It is fortunate that NAfME has recently updated the Opportunity to Learn (OTL) Standards. These OTL Standards were prepared by the Council of Music Program Leaders and identify the resources needing to be in place so that teachers, schools, and districts can give students a meaningful chance to achieve at the levels spelled out in our Core Music Standards. Organized into four categories—Curriculum and Scheduling; Staffing; Materials and Equipment; and Facilities—the OTL Standards assist us in reaching the overarching goal of music literacy for all students through meaningful experiences in the artistic processes of creating, performing, and responding.
Many administrators still need to be convinced that large, high-quality music and arts programs are the tide that raises all ships when it comes to student achievement so since ESSA articulates that each state will now be accountable for providing a well-rounded education for ALL students, music educators should begin preparing data which provides decision-makers with the knowledge necessary to make decisions that will benefit students through music and arts programs. One of the most beneficial ways to help inform administrators would be to show how our programs contribute to the overall positive school climate in our schools. The NAMM Foundation has compiled a Facts and Quotes document that provides a comprehensive cache of data that provides exactly this type of information. It is available to download at: www.nammfoundation.org/sites/default/files/facts%20and%20quotes.pdf
Although it is important to provide this type of overview data, school leaders always appreciate knowing how the results of research translate to their own district and/or individual school. It is thus also vital to provide building-level administrators with data on the numbers of students impacted by their school’s music program and relate how music and the arts have contributed to a positive school climate within their own building. This could be accomplished by providing the following data on a year-by-year comparison spreadsheet.
- class counts showing the growth of the program
- number of performances provided over the course of the specific year
- number of citizens impacted by above performances
- number of parents involved in the program
- number of students involved in student music organizations/leadership programs
- number of students who auditioned for honor ensembles (local and/or state)
- number of students who participated in recitals or solo and ensemble festivals
- number of students who participated in large ensemble festivals (and ratings, if relevant)
- number of students who received college scholarships as a result of their high school music experiences
- number of students who graduated as valedictorians, salutatorians
- number of students who received college scholarships (both music and otherwise)
- percentage distribution of GPAs of music students
- percentage of students who graduated on time
- attendance rate of music students
- discipline report of music students
- ACT Math and ACT English scores
It would also be impactful to provide corresponding data on the number of students who are not participating in the music program – perhaps there could be a consolidated effort with the other arts educators in your building to determine the same sort of data from their programs so that a collective arts education document could be made available. In this way, it could be more easily determined how many students are NOT being served by arts education. The next logical question is, how can we expand our music and arts offerings to involve even MORE students. This is important because ESSA is about serving ALL students through a well-rounded education and not just a few. This is also the hard part. How can we reach out to involve more students in music and arts education to help achieve the mission of providing a well-rounded education for ALL.
Visiting with school counselors would be a great start. Ask them to tell you more about the students who aren’t involved. Who are they and what are their needs? We know that ALL students LOVE music so how can we parlay this reality into program expansion? I have always wondered what it would be like to teach an iPod class where students were required to bring their favorite styles/selections (with guarded parameters, of course) to class and explain, in agreed-upon jargon, what it is about the material chosen that makes it especially meaningful and enjoyable. Students could then discuss among themselves the reasons that they agree or disagree with the given musical example. I would provide all students with an easy, fill-in-the-blank listening guide so that at the end of a semester, they would have a collection of these that reflect the music that today’s young people listen to and enjoy. Each student could be asked to provide two selections per semester – you would determine how they should differ from one another. Perhaps one would be a selection by a group and the other more of a solo performance. Perhaps it could be contrasting styles. Whatever the choice, this is definitely a music course that would be more appealing to many of our students who may not be interested in active music-making . . . YET! This is also a way to reach out to students in the building who you might never meet otherwise.
Whatever the area, it is important to honor all musical styles—even if it’s not your very favorite. Below are some non-traditional courses (i.e. not band, choir or orchestra) being offered in some of our more innovative school districts.
- Gospel Choir
- Guitar (Classical or Pop/Rock)
- Steelpan Ensemble
- Taiko Drumming
The value of data collection cannot be overestimated. Principals, superintendents, school board members and certainly parents, students and even the music and arts faculty itself would benefit from a genuine measure of how music and arts programs are impacting the students and the school overall. With the onset of ESSA, the stage is set for all of us to perform a needs assessment rooted in meaningful data so that we may move forward to provide the type of quality, well-rounded education that each individual state will eventually be held accountable.
Marcia Neel is president of Music Education Consultants, Inc., and serves as educational advisor to the Music Achievement Council (MAC). In this capacity, she provides engaging sessions at state conferences, district in-service days, and dealer workshops to share practical success strategies to help educators with the many and varied elements of the successful music education program. Marcia also serves as Senior Director of Education for the Yamaha Band and Orchestral Division and was recently appointed to the ESSA Accountability Work Group for the Nevada Department of Education. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about sessions in your area and visit www.musicachievementcouncil.org for additional complimentary resources.