How Do We Define The Success Of Our Educational Programs?

The following was a collaborative effort and appeared in the program of the 12th Annual Mercer Mustang Band Show on Saturday, September 8, 2007.  The article was written by Travis J. Weller (Band Director, Mercer High School) and Michelle Morris (Assistant Director, Mercer High School).

Travis and Michelle wrote about a number of extremely relevant and timely questions, especially with regard to arts in the schools.  I was literally taken aback when I saw something as bold and thought provoking as the contents of this article emblazoned on the front two pages of their band program for the show.

This was a great way to reach the hundreds if not 1000+ people that were at the show.  I was talking with Travis last year at a music conference about that very idea and it was great to see it in action.  I think there is a little room in every program that we put out for our programs for advocacy items like this (not everyone has to be as detailed as this! :) ). 

If you are looking for advocacy materials for music programs, look no farther than http://supportmusic.com and you can read our advocacy articles here at mustech.net!

PLEASE SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS ABOUT THIS WITH US AND TRAVIS BY COMMENTING ON THIS ARTICLE BELOW.

                          mustech.net

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As a teacher, it is part of my job to provide students with assignments that I feel will benefit them by providing them development of and practice with skills that they will need in the future.  I have one-such assignment in mind tonight, but the students will not be able to complete this by themselves – they need your help and your voices.  As you sit here tonight, I am presenting to you (the audience) a two-fold assignment.  First, I want you to decide if the students that you will see before you on the field tonight are successful.  I’m not just talking about every pitch being perfectly in tune and every person hitting their mark at precisely the right time (although these certainly can be markers of a successful marching band program).  What I am talking about is, are these students truly successful?  Are they successful in their schools, are they successful in their communities, are they successful as the future of America?  The second part of your assignment is to decide how important you think it is for schools to provide students the chance to be successful, both currently and in the future.

Many school administrators, pressured by state and federal mandates to produce improvement in test scores, have lost sight of the importance of the arts – particularly a music education program – within the total curriculum of a school.  Wanting their schools to produce higher scores, some community members have bought in to the belief that the arts should be pushed aside in order to provide more test-preparation instruction.  What these people have forgotten in the midst of this deluge of data, paperwork, and preparations for a particular mode of testing is that not every student is destined to become the next Shakespeare or Einstein.  While language and math skills are certainly important to the current and future well-being of every student in our society, they must not be looked at as being the only important skills that students must acquire.

Some students are born to be the next Picasso or the next Beethoven – no less famous or no less important than the next Shakespeare or Einstein, but requiring a different skill set.  We do these students a great disservice when we do not properly prepare them for their future.  Without the proper cultivation of these students’ submerged talents, the masterpieces of the future may never emerge.  These students may choose careers in a number of other fields and may do a great job at performing their job tasks – but if they are not performing in the job in which their talents could be used best if cultivated properly and in which they would enjoy their work the most (leading to enthusiasm in the workplace, excellent work ethic, compassion/empathy for co-workers, and a number of other positive workplace atmosphere qualities), are they really truly successful in their careers?  In other words, if they are only in a career because lacking a well-rounded education forced them to choose from a limited number of career possibilities, are they really benefiting society to the best of their abilities?

Even students who have no plans to enter a career in the music profession can benefit greatly from involvement in a well-constructed music education program.  A future sales-representative can gain confidence in front of a large audience while performing with an ensemble.  A future medical researcher can hone her analysis skills while trying to figure out why things happen the way that they do in a certain piece of music.  A future automotive industry safety engineer can practice evaluation skills while watching the film of a recent performance and asking himself, “What can I do next time to improve the quality of that product?”

The truth is, skills learned in a thriving music curriculum can benefit anyone.  You do not have to search very hard to find examples of people who have careers outside of the music industry but developed necessary skills for their profession while learning music.  This is especially true of leaders in our culture.  It must be admitted that former President William Jefferson Clinton, whether you support him or not, exuded leadership qualities as President and continues to do so today.  He has shown one sure sign of being a successful leader – he is a very controversial figure.  When tough decisions must be made in order to take a group in a new direction – the direction that the leader believes to be the correct direction – controversy will surely follow.  As President, Clinton was faced with many of these tough decisions in which he relied on his leadership abilities.  Where was one of the first places that he was able foster his leadership skills?  He was the drum major of his high school marching band.

Another famous leader figure in our culture is everybody’s favorite “neighbor” – Fred Rogers.  He exuded a different quality of a great leader – he seemingly effortlessly accomplished something that others could not.  Mr. Rogers entertained millions of children while daring to teach them life lessons that sadly many children no longer learn from their parents or at school.  Messages such as “Treat others with kindness” and “It’s perfectly alright to be you” were mixed in with the cultivation of creativity in children through The Neighborhood of Make-Believe and other activities on his beloved show.  Could he have brought these important messages to children without the over 200 songs and 12 operas that he composed for his show?  Probably.  Would they have been as effective in catching and holding the attention of children and getting them to believe that his messages were true?  Probably not.

Clinton and Rogers – they were both leaders in totally different ways, yet both very important to our culture.  The music education from which both of these men benefited became a part of them, helping to shape them as individuals.  They certainly would have become different people if they had not experienced music education in their youth, just as those who are students today will become individuals untrue to their real identities if we refuse to provide them with a quality music education.

In this culture that gives great respect to recording artists; composers; symphony members; and Broadway performers, yet seems to forget that music matters when it comes to schools, we need to be the voice that reminds those in charge of our schools.  Administrators, lawmakers, and the community at large as taxpayers need to be constantly reminded that music does matter.  There is no standardized test that can measure the success of a music program, and there never will be – the benefits are just too broad and vast.  However, that does not mean that music programs do not matter.  We don’t need a test to measure the success of these students.  Events such as this show this evening can do that for us.  These students have given up a Saturday evening in order to bring a night of entertainment to the community.  They participate in a band program, not because it brings them popularity among the student body or because it is the school organization that receives the most funding, but because they believe in the value of what they are doing, they want to support the cause of their friends and fellow bandsmen, or because they want to be successful in an array of different ways and see the band program as a venue where that can happen.  They are interested in being involved with their school.  I think that the ability to prioritize how they spend their time based on reasons such as these proves them to be quite successful, but now it is your turn to decide.

As you leave this stadium tonight, it will be time to turn in your homework.  You will have decided how successful these students have been and how responsible their music program is in leading to their current and future success.  It is wonderful that you were here this evening to support the students in your school’s band program.  If you want to continue to show them that you support them in what they do, continue to follow them as they perform at various events.  If, however, you want to prove to them that what they do truly matters, put up a fight for them.  Help to ensure that these students will have the opportunity to continue to practice the skills that will make them truly successful in their futures.

These students have shared their success with you tonight.  Now it is your turn to share the message of their success, both currently and in the future, with those who make the decisions that affect their future.  Administrators in some districts have totally lost sight of the importance of music education.  At Mercer, we are blessed to have administrators that believe in the power of music education.  However, with the pressure currently placed on all administrators to ensure high test scores from their students, a friendly reminder about the importance of the arts could never hurt.  Earn some extra credit on your assignment – after leaving tonight, go to those in charge of your district and make sure that those people don’t forget that in the schools of these students, music does matter!

PLEASE SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS ABOUT THIS WITH US AND TRAVIS BY COMMENTING ON THIS ARTICLE BELOW.

[tags] travis weller, mustech.net, music advocacy, success in the schools, pssa, marching band, teaching, teaching music [/tags]

Joseph M. Pisano, Ph.D. is the creator of many education websites, a lecturer, clinician, trumpeter, and conductor. He is currently the Associate Chair of Music and Director of Bands in the Calderwood School of Arts at Grove City College in PA. He been named a TI:ME Teacher of the Year, received the JEN Jazz Educator Award and the PA Citation of Excellence. He is a past Vice President of the Technology Institute for Music Educators and the current Vice-President of the PA Intercollegiate Bandmasters Association. He also writes for DCI Magazine, Teaching Music Magazine, and is the Educational Editor for In-Tune Monthly Magazine; he has contributed hundreds of articles to various publications. Find out more at his website jpisano.com.
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