Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Electives RULE....But Where is Music?

By Mark T. Burke

Small schools, small staff, small budgets. Add into the mix energetic, creative kids with TONS of varied interest.  What do you get? Unfortunately, you get the perfect picture of what many rural schools look like.  Kids with all kinds of interests and energy to put toward those interests sitting with their heads in their hands in classes taken...because "that's what was available."

The recently released report "Class Connections: High School Reform and the Role of Online Learning" Picciano and Seaman, paints a clear picture of how rural schools are using online courses to enhance their offerings and meet the needs of their students. The study surveyed 441 school administrators across the US from Rural, Town, Suburban and Urban school districts. In regards to the types of courses offered, 60+% said they were offering Elective courses.  That statistic is second only to the almost 70% reporting the use of Credit Recovery.  In regards to Blended style courses (online + face to face), Elective courses are at the top with 30+% reporting offering them. 

If you break down Electives compared to Credit Recovery, the report clearly shows that urban schools are using online credit recovery courses and rural schools are using online electives to help them meet their goals.  As the report demonstrates, "Electives" are considered Foreign Language and advanced Science and Technology courses. Shouldn't we be concerned that Music and the Arts are clearly missing from this definition?  The argument that music is a core subject and not an elective aside, most schools continue to treat and IDENTIFY music as an elective.  Until the "M" in STEM stands for Music, (see what MENC and ASCD is doing on this front), I believe we must fight the battle we have clearly in sight.  Music and Arts need to be part of a child's complete schooling and if for now, that includes them being lumped in as electives, then we know what we have to do.  We must ensure Music courses are talked about in regards to Electives and that they start appearing as online or blended offerings.

I believe that music teachers have all but been left out of school's virtual programs.  In fact, after talking to many that do have virtual programs at their brick and mortar schools, many have little or no idea what those programs offer.  The students within those schools are taking electives, but guess what...NOT MUSIC. 

So what's the solution?  First and foremost, music teachers need to get involved in their school's virtual programs. Talk to the local person in charge of supervising online students (often called a Point of Contact).  Talk to them about what courses the kids are taking, how many kids are enrolled and how much growth the school has seen in enrollments. Second, talk about about how engaged the students are.  Are they communicative, are they talking among peers, are they meeting deadlines for assignments?  Kids that are satisfied with their education are communicative, talk to peers and meet deadlines. If not, they need life brought into their online schooling.  This is where music teachers come in.  Three, look for ways to bring music offerings to these kids.  Contact us if you need help.

We need to work together to ensure music is part of the equation to provide well-rounded education to kids.  As music teachers, we can't sit on the sidelines and think online and blended education will not change the way kids learn.  If we do, the change will be that kids, in large percentages will not be growing through music.

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