Welcome to the second in a four-part series by Dr. John Benham, a nationally renowned music educator who specializes in helping save music programs that have been targeted for devastating budget cuts. In his first piece for AMP, Dr. Benham introduced us to two counties in which cuts to music education have been proposed. This week, he touches on the importance of building a strong music coalition. Next time, he’ll introduce us to the reverse economics that will impress bean-counters, and then he’ll show us the results from taking (or not!) the right steps at the right times.

Tale of 2 Counties Benham

There are four keys to successful advocacy for music education:

 Understanding the School System
A Well-organized Music Coalition
A Unified Music Profession
Understanding the Decision-Making Process

 Make it five: Pro-active Involvement in the Process

The Music Coalition

A well-organized Music Coalition has been in place for several years in Foresight County. All schools and areas of the music curriculum are represented. Aware that the music program was once again under threat, they began their proactive efforts at saving the program months before the final decision was to be made. The coalition includes members of the community, including the music industry and arts advocates who do not have children in school. Attendance at advocacy meetings was excellent, and media coverage of during the entire process was extensive.

There is no music coalition in Failure County, even though this is not the first time the district has proposed cuts to the music program. There are a couple of schools that have band booster organizations, but no district-wide structure or representation.

Three public meetings were held and media coverage was excellent. However, only about 100 different individuals attended, even though over 60 teaching positions were in jeopardy.

The entire process was reactive. Parents were unable to any provide significant input on the process, and in fact were unable to acquire the statistical data required to do a Status Report until they threatened legal action.


The Teachers

While not all Foresight County teachers actively participated in the advocacy process, they were unified in its support to the extent that no one undermined the efforts of the coalition.

Few Failure County teachers participated in the process. While many were in a state of denial, some exhibited a sense of helplessness and other apathy. The testimony of many teachers affirmed that they had been told by the administration that if they participated in the process their jobs would be cut. This, of course, is illegal.

©John L. Benham
Used by permission

Benham-212x300Dr. John Benham’s area of expertise is saving and restoring music programs in the face of budget cuts. With over 30 years as a music educator and six years on a school board, his personal knowledge and experience has provided a unique understanding to help teachers and parents go before a school board and administration with language they understand. His methods are responsible for saving over $72 million in budgetary cuts to music programs, leading to the restoration of over 2,000 teaching positions and the continuation of music programs for over 500,000 students. In addition to his work as consultant with NABIM (The Band and Instrument Manufacturers Association), he is author of Music Advocacy: Moving from Survival to Vision and has been featured as a speaker at conferences throughout North America. He is a member of the ACDA and ASTA advocacy committees, and the MENC Task Force on advocacy. His plan and elements of his approach to this very significant problem have become a part of NAMM’s advocacy kit for music.