Article — Educating Your School Board

 

Educating Your School Board (1.05 MB)
Special thanks to Maggie Fischer, founder and president of the Music Advocates of Carroll County in Maryland. They are a grassroots organization that is dedicated to  supporting music  education in our schools.

When we founded our organization (Music Advocates of Carroll County), we wanted to
create an open dialog with the members of our Board of Education. We also wanted to
establish ourselves as professional, positive and willing to work within the system. We
knew that we needed to speak the language of the school system, which values data and
research in their decision-making. We also knew that we had to present the data in a way
that supported the music teachers and didn't make them feel we were throwing them
under the bus!

The MACC core team decided to create data binders and meet with individual board
members to present our findings. There was a lot of data that could be misinterpreted
without an explanation. Two of the five elected members of the BOE met with us and we
presented the "State of Music Ed" in our county. We delivered additional binders to the
other members, as well as to the superintendent and supervisor for fine arts.

We had a great conversation with the two board members, who were surprised by some of
the data. For instance, they did not know that one of our high schools did not offer band or
orchestra for a full year. It was also a surprise that 50% of our students who play an
instrument in elementary school quit by the time they reach high school. These two issues
became immediate action items following our meeting. (And yes! That high school now
offers band and orchestra for the full year. They did a terrific job advocating!)

Want to make binders for your community? Here's our template:

INTRODUCTION:

The opening page of the binder included a welcome message from our group, with thanks
to all the decision-makers in our county for their willingness to meet with us and learn
about issues facing music education.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Our binders had six major sections.

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SECTION 1: Who is MACC?

We explained the mission of our organization and included some of the advocacy materials from NAMM, which make an eye-catching introduction to some
of the issues.

SECTION 2: General Statistics & Data for our County

We gathered a lot of information, including:

  • Explanations of the rating system for music (I-V; Superior to Poor) so they could start to understand the assessments used for performance ensembles. We used the Maryland Music Educators' Association as a guide. Your state association may have different standards.
  • Actual assessment results for our middle and high school ensembles. We chose to report this data without school names or identifiers. It is very important to tread gently when using this data. An uneducated person might say "Gee, School A didn't get a very good rating, compared to School B, so B must have the better program." In actuality, this data is just a tool to begin a conversation about what resources are needed to make each program its best. School B might have more instructional time or a more supportive administration. School A might not have gotten superior ratings this year, but maybe they made a big improvement since last year.
  • Explanations of what music grade levels mean and how different pieces have varying degrees of difficulty depending on the skills involved.
  • All-State Participation Data. We created chart that indicated how many students participated in all-state ensembles over a five-year period.
  • Enrollment numbers for music courses in our county, including information about retention as students transition to middle and high school.
  • Data about how music programs contribute to higher attendance and graduation rates

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SECTION 3: Schedule Samples- "To Block or Not to Block"

One of the major issues in our county was that all the high schools used some form of the 4 x 4 block schedule, but not all of them scheduled music courses to meet all year. One of our high school programs was already advocating for a schedule change so that band and
orchestra could meet for a full year. This section of the binder addressed that issue with the following:

  • Five reasons why year long instruction is a necessity
  • State and local graduation requirements
  • 8 Different models of high school schedules

SECTION 4: Advocacy Materials

This section included several articles about how music changes the brain, raises test scores, teaches problem-solving and fosters our most human traits.

SECTION 5: Exemplary Programs

This section introduced the idea that our school system could create exemplary program
guidelines, which would clearly identify standards and expectations for music programs.
Such guidelines would have to be created through collaboration with the music teachers,
who know better than anyone what is needed. Exemplary Program Guidelines could
include:

  • Scheduling parameters (where, when and under what conditions may rehearsals be held)
  • Minimum amounts of instructional time
  • Grouping of students (whether by grade, instrumentation, and/or ability level)
  • Communication processes between teachers, administrators and community
  • Professional expectations of teachers, administrators and supervisors with regard to music
  • Expectations for professional development

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SECTION 6: Survey Summary

We created an online, anonymous survey for all the music teachers in the county. 53%
responded. The results of that survey guided the direction of MACC, in terms of which
issues we chose to tackle first. This section of the binder summarized the survey results.

One thing I should mention: It is really important to tread gently around the music
teachers. In our county, their hands are tied by policies beyond their control and there was
a fear that we were going to use the data (especially assessment results) to criticize them. It has taken us a long time to ease their worries and communicate that we are here to build
and not to tear down. Fortunately, we have been very consistent and positive, so I think we
are building trust. We basically have an unspoken policy that we aren't there to evaluate
the teachers.

All we can do is untie their hands and try to give them the resources they need to create the most successful programs possible. That's what we used the data for.
I have to say, making the binders was a very positive move. The binders are easy to update
with new information, and we were able to put a face to our organization. The BOE knows
us and I think they also know that we are positive and supportive.

Educating Your School Board (1.05 MB)