Thursday, June 10, 2010

Music Cuts Continue...Let's Talk Solutions

By Mark T. Burke

Reading our local newspaper yesterday, I came across a small article placed at the bottom corner of a page.  The content of the article can be found here. Easton school district gets OK to cut 72 jobs |  As you can see, another music program in PA is at risk of being cut.  

A few days ago, while reviewing Facebook posts, I came across a link to a survey conducted by the American Association of School Administrators.  The survey shows how 275,000 jobs could be lost this coming school year.  How many of those jobs include music positions?  While I don't know the answer, I believe it is fair to say, if these positions are eliminated, 100's or even 1000's of music programs in the US could be at risk. You can read the article here:  New AASA Survey Finds 275,000 Education Jobs in Peril.

At times like this we benefit from forming new strategies around our profession to ensure music lives on.  We will have to think "outside the box" and be introspective.  We will have to investigate our norms and standards as we know them.  We will for sure have to be open and appreciate this process as a necessary activity to ensure continuance.  The answers to how to ensure music education remains a priority for schools is not as simple as a blog post with a few ideas.  But, it is a start.  Read on.   

Initiatives to help ensure music's place within schools.

Year-Round School
The recent push to consider the value of year-round school has to be particularly interesting for most music teachers.  For generations, the one educational program that has embraced year-round educational programs has been music.  Active summer programs create year-round education for involved students.  Isn't it ironic that as schools consider moving to year-round schooling, that one of the few programs that has already embraced the practice is one of the first programs to get cut from schools when times get tough?  What should be happening is that music programs should serve as MODELS for how schools can build successful educational programs and thus, provide the highest quality instruction for their students.

As music educators, this "new" initiative provides an opportunity to voice our expertise and secure a place on school planning committees.  I believe we are closer to year-round school than many think.  Year-round school is not about simply creating more school days on the calendar.  As music teachers, we know that summer can be an incredibly influential educational experience.  We take this opportunity to change the pace of our teaching, we change the venue (often moving to outside activities) and work in a more relaxed environment.  Those teaching techniques can be applied to a broader definition of year-round school.  I believe music instructors can solidify their educational expertise and help schools design great programs.  This is an opportunity to ensure music programs serve as models to educational system rather than being immediately placed at the top of this list for cuts.

Local Standards

State and national standards for music education have accomplished little to secure the subject's place as a priority curriculum in schools.  It they had, then state testing exams would include sections on music.  In PA, the PSSA tests have dictated what schools teach.  If the PSSA tests a specific subject, schools must find ways to teach that topic or risk the negative consequences of their students not demonstrating mastery.

Every music team within schools should gather themselves up and develop local music standards for their students.  The standards need to demonstrate WHY music is important.  They can't focus on "every student will play a major scale" type of standards.  Let's face it, in real life, that skill has little benefit to the majority of citizens. The standards need to demonstrate how music provides students the experiences of thinking, problem solving, creating, analyzing, collaborating, etc.  The process of developing these standards must also involve the educational leaders in the school system.  Principals and Curriculum Directors must be brought into the process.  Simply put, if a school at large doesn't know the value of the music program, it risks being cut.

Over the next few post, I'll talk about:   
  • Reaching the Masses
  • Teach Innovative Music (Leadership Through Music, Creativity Through Music, Problem Solving Through Music) 
  • Professional Development Beyond Click here! (Leadership, Advocacy, PLN's) 
  • Embracing Innovation
How have you ensured your music program continues to thrive within your school?  What topics do you think we should be discussing?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Too Busy to BLOG...We're One Busy Music Academy

By Mark T. Burke

Oops!  We've been bad.  We've been so busy that we put blog posting on the back burner....something we don't like to do.  We know what we've been doing is important please forgive us while we keep a lot of different projects moving forward.  We're becoming great jugglers! 

So, what's going on around our shop?

Exploring Music Course
Our goal to provide a broad set of courses to meet the needs of students everywhere has been our goal since day 1.  We know there are tons of students who want to make music but don't play a band instrument.  We think the solution is...well, right under our fingers...right now in fact.  Making music with a computer is a great way for students to express themselves. 

Our "Exploring Music with GarageBand" and "Exploring Music with MixCraft" *** courses will provide instruction on the elements of music.  Application of those elements provides students the tools needed to create music using software like GarageBand and MixCraft.  Becky and Bill Ciabattari have been nose to the grindstone writing the content, mapping the assessments and designing the projects.  Joe Runciman, our programming and graphics guru worked hard to give the course a fresh new design.  We're pretty darn proud of this new course. 

Summer Camp for Saxophones 
We know, we're a "CYBER" school.  We're supposed to just focus on online instruction - right?.  Well, our goal from the day we created viaAcademies has been to be first and foremost a music academy for all students.  The team has deep connections in our local musical community and through those connections, we provide musical opportunities every chance we get.

This summer, viaAcademies is teaming up with the Keystone Sax Quartet and Central Oaks Heights, a local music retreat and arts center, to host the Summer Saxophone Quartet Workshop 2010.  One of the students chosen for the workshop is Kate Anderson (Graduating Senior from Hughesville HS).  For students who enroll in our Saxophone course, you will see and hear Kate in action in the Practice Partner Videos.  Other members include Jake Russo (Montoursville HS), Ben Titman (Graduating Senior from Danville HS) and Rob Bingaman (Graduating Senior from Selinsrove HS).

Our concert will by July 16th.  If you're in the area, join us.  We even have a guest soloist, Mr. Jason Laczkoski, doctoral student at the University of Iowa.

Yep, we've been playing games. Well, really we've been designing our Exploring Music educational simulation.  Some would call it a GAME.  The game will be embedded in the Exploring Music course.  Why 3D?  Well, game play combined with engaging environments are extremely affected educational tools.  We're cutting edge for a reason though.  We don't just want to look pretty.  We use educational strategies that work and gaming WORKS!  The game will help students master the topics throughout the course because the game is PART of the instruction, not just an add on.  We've teamed up with the great folks at Bloomsburg University to build the game.  We've learned a ton and we're continuing to learn more each day.  We'll be demonstrating the game soon....let us know if you would like a tour.

Professional Development
We're not too proud to say we're getting a bit of reputation. We're working closely with the BLaST Intermediate Unit in Williamsport PA to bring area schools innovative music in-service programs.  Music often gets left out of in-service programs throughout the year and we want to change that.  We don't think music teachers should have to wait for the annual state conference to learn about new tools, instructional methods and creative instructional programs.  We will be talking about this more in the future, but until then, we would love to learn more about your in-service needs. 

A friend of mine says, "If you want something done, give it to a busy person."  There's a ton more to say, but I actually need to get back to work.  It's almost 7am and I am running behind...:-) 

Stay in touch, stay in tune! 

*** GarageBand is a TM of Apple Inc. (
*** MixCraft is a TM of Acoustica. (

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