With local administrators scrutinizing school spending in response to the state’s budget crisis, now is the time to do your part in advocating for music education.While budget battles will continue to be fought at the capitol, the war will be won in each of the 1,030 Texas school districts as individuals like you mobilize to speak out and demonstrate why music education in your school district is important.
Music Directors: Whether you already have an active parent booster group or not, your students’ parents are likely the group with whom you should begin working. They directly witness the positive effects of music in the curriculum and realize what it means to their children to receive a quality music education. They also have connections. And connections will make a difference. If you don't already work with a parent booster group, contact your students' parents to begin organizing one.
Parents/Community Members: Contact your school's music directors to find out how you can help. If you aren't already a member of the music program's booster club, join. If one doesn't exist, work with the music director to start one.
Assess Your Connections
Take time to get to know the abilities and connections within your group:
- Who has the best access to civic and community groups?
- Who has the best access to the media?
- Who can best make connections with school officials; who can do this diplomatically to the best advantage of the effort?
- Who can most easily identify, monitor, and call on legislators, school board members, or other decision makers for your school system?
- Who is interested in monitoring the school budget, giving your music education advocacy group guidance and input that can augment your actions?
Establish Your Priorities
With the fallout from the state’s budget shortfall, it’s likely that local funding of music education and jobs will be at the top of your priority list. However, the specifics may vary from district to district. Whatever they are, it is important to document your priorities to ensure that every communication you make to your local decision makers in some way supports those priorities.
Define Your Message
With a clearly defined message, you can evaluate every action or communication in your plan to ensure that it supports this message in some way. While your communication methods may vary, the core message itself should be constant. With the focus on budget cuts in this current legislative session, the message TMEA leaders center on the fact that music education is curricular and should not take a disproportionate share of cuts compared to other academic subjects. This is certainly an appropriate message for advocates at the local level as well.
Create Your Advocacy Approach
Evaluate the avenues of communication you have that will support the priorities you established, and create a time line for executing your advocacy strategy. Always focus communication on how music education benefits every student and, where possible, get parents and community leaders to champion the cause. It is important that you support music education; however, it will be more effective for members of the community to speak out on why it must be a vital part of every student’s education. The following are a few ideas about how to be advocates for music education. When you meet, think of other ways that will be effective in your district.
- Invite administrators and school board members to rehearsals/classroom to observe.
- Include administrators in your next program (perform a piece with narration to include them).
- Get administrators to present awards to your students during your awards ceremony.
- Communicate your program’s successes with local media.
- Parents/community members should submit letters to the editor supporting music education in the schools.
- Include advocacy material in your concert program, on your program’s website, and within any regular communications you have with parents.
- Parents should send letters to school board members explaining why they should support music education in the schools. (Sample letters, petitions, and other communications are available in the Community Action Kit on NAMM's Support Music website)
- Parents should attend school board meetings and speak to the importance of music education for all students.
Engaging the News Media
An important part of successfully advocating for music education is communicating the message consistently through local media. Review the news media toolkit for guidance on how to best prepare and submit information to media outlets. News Media Toolkit
Distribute Advocacy Materials
This website contains several print-ready materials and videos for your use in local advocacy. Additionally, the site links to the NAMM Support Music site that includes a wealth of advocacy material and thorough instructions for starting a grassroots advocacy effort. Go to the Advocacy Materials page. In addition to several other advocacy items, the Advocacy Materials Page includes the following compelling pieces you can use in local advocacy:
Top 10 Skills Children Learn from the Arts: Washington Post 2013 article outlining the importance of studying the arts to develop skills for success in academia and life.
Learning, Arts, and the Brain: Summary of the 2008 Dana Consortium report on the influence of arts study on cognition. The results from this consortium represented groundbreaking research solidifying the correlation of arts study and higher cognition and laid the foundation for further establishing a causal relationship.
Creativity in 21st-Century Workforce Preparation: Summary of the 2009 joint Senate/House chamber briefing led by Dan Pink on the importance of arts education for preparing students to enter the 21st-century workforce. The video of this briefing is also available on that webpage.
Hearing the Music, Honing the Mind: This November 2010 Scientific American editorial offers information on how music instruction enhances the general ability to learn, and it makes a direct plea to preserve music education in the schools.
Reverse Economics: This case study reveals how instead of saving money, eliminating music instructor positions can actually raise the FTE costs for some school districts.
Voices in the Arts: This 2010 publication by the College Board offers a variety of perspectives on the importance of arts in education. The College Board is a well-respected authority on college readiness.
Fine Arts Enrollment Study: An examination of 2006–2010 enrollment data reported by Texas schools shows a correlation between higher fine arts enrollment and higher campus academic ratings and graduation rates.
Five-Year SAT Comparison: This graph shows that Texas All-State students have scored 20% higher than the national average and 22% higher than the Texas state average on the SAT.
Fine Arts Study and SAT Scores: College Board data shows that college-bound seniors who study fine arts score 11–13% higher on the SAT than students not enrolled in fine arts courses.
What the Law Says: As you advocate, it is important that you know what is required by law. Fine arts education has a strong presence in State Board rule and law from the elementary through high school levels. It’s possible that some local decision makers aren’t aware of the requirements in education code and this is an impressive document to share.
While advocates should express what is important in their own words, sometimes hearing from an expert can be equally effective. With the focus on the economy, Dan Pink’s keynote address from our 2009 convention and his speech at the 2009 Texas Senate/House briefing could offer the right message for the time.
A Hard-Headed Case for Arts Education, Dan Pink, 2009 TMEA Clinic/Convention
The Role of Creativity in 21st Century Workforce Preparation, Dan Pink, 2009 Texas Senate/House Briefing
High-quality performances by school music groups can offer the best possible advocacy. Even if you can’t coordinate the performance of your entire ensemble for several community organizations, work with small ensembles to have them represent your program. Contact local community groups (maybe your students’ parents are already members) and ask if they would appreciate having a student group perform before the start of their meeting.