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?


  1. The National Standards are great, but traditional performing ensemble programs in most public schools rarely get past "Performing, alone or with others..." "Reading rhythmic notation..." and "".

    The majority of high school music programs across the country serve 10% or less of the student body (some programs that are considered extremely successful service as little as 2%). Of those 10% or less that are served, less than half of them ever touch an instrument or sing in a vocal group again after graduation from either high school or college. What is wrong with this picture?

    I'm convinced that we need to make CREATIVITY the central focus of music curricula. Learning to perform on a primary instrument is essential, and that primary instrument COULD be a computer. Teaching music through composition, both with and without the aid of a computer, creates a life-long love for music. With today's social media capabilities, anyone can create and share music without it having to be a commercial success.

    There will always be a place for school performing ensembles, but the endless stream of concerts, competitions, football games, parades, and trips has to make some room to actually teach students how to PERSONALIZE music so that they take it with them into adulthood as a music MAKER, not a music consumer.

  2. Tom -- well said. We're building out a professional development offering for the fall around advocacy and approaching the subject from the creative benefits (rather than Music is Math, Music is Science).

    Thanks for chiming in.