by Dr. Paul Lehman1. When describing our programs to school administrators, or parents, or the public we can use a TEKS-based description. That is, we can describe the program in terms of what students should know and be able to do, not in terms of what activities the students should engage in.
If we emphasize the activities that should comprise the curriculum it’s easy to give the impression that music programs exist to provide jobs for music teachers, or to provide markets for instrument dealers and music publishers, or to provide audiences for professional musicians, none of which is true. Music programs exist to bring joy and beauty and satisfaction into the lives of kids and to enhance the quality of life for every citizen. And that happens only when kids have acquired clearly defined skills and knowledge.
2. We can use TEKS to bring every aspect of our program into alignment. Once we’ve reached agreement on TEKS, then those TEKS can be used as a basis for developing curriculum, reforming teacher education, assessing learning, and so forth. TEKS give us a basis for rationalizing the entire educational process and making it consistent in a way that has never before been possible. Working with our colleagues at other levels and in other specialties, we can provide a truly comprehensive, balanced, seamless K-12 music program.
3. We can use TEKS to clarify our expectations. This is important because if we can’t state clearly what it is we want kids to learn, then we can’t expect to be taken seriously by school administrators. Nor by parents. And if kids don’t learn what we want them to learn, one reason may be that they don’t know precisely what that is. Of course, schools do have standards; the problem is that too often they are not stated in writing, and therefore no one is held accountable. These de facto standards vary from teacher to teacher and are sometimes so low we would be embarrassed to let them be known publicly.
4. We can use TEKS to bring equity to our expectations. Some schools currently have high expectations of students and some have low expectations. Every year one-fifth of the kids in the nation move to new schools. Their new teachers have no idea what they can do because our curricula are so different among districts and among states. Basic fairness demands greater equity in our expectations of kids, and TEKS make that possible. Furthermore, we sometimes expect less of some kids just because they come from a certain area of town or a certain socioeconomic background. TEKS can help to end this morally inexcusable and socially devastating disparity.
5. We can use TEKS to move music beyond entertainment. TEKS give us credibility in claiming that our programs, like those in the other basic disciplines, are based on learning specific skills and knowledge. They strengthen our argument that music is not simply an activity. It is not merely something to be engaged in as a respite from the serious business of education. It is not primarily entertainment. It is not a frill. After a band parents’ open house, one parent said “I didn’t know the kids actually learned things in band. I thought they just played.” With TEKS that misperception shouldn’t happen.
6. We can use TEKS as a basis for claiming needed resources. If we want kids to know and be able to do specific things, then we will need specific minimal levels of time, materials, equipment and support. With TEKS we can argue for the resources we need to do our jobs. MENC’s Opportunity-to-Learn Standards and the newly revised Texas School Music Program document both specify what music educators need with respect to curriculum, scheduling, staffing, materials, equipment and facilities to implement the TEKS.
7. We can use TEKS to insist on qualified teachers. Having TEKS enables us to bypass the argument about whether music should be taught by classroom teachers or specialists. If the music curriculum is expressed in terms of activities rather than in terms of outcomes, then it’s difficult to argue that the teachers need a high level of musical skills. But if we expect to teach specific skills and knowledge as outlined in challenging TEKS, then we need teachers who possess those skills and knowledge. If a district expects classroom teachers to teach to the TEKS, then it has to ensure that the teachers it hires possess those skills. Discussions about specialists and classroom teachers become irrelevant with TEKS because the label is irrelevant. What counts is the results.
8. We can use TEKS as a basis for our personal programs of professional development. As individuals we should identify the gaps in our preparation and experience that limit our ability to teach the skills and knowledge called for in the TEKS. Then we should each develop and carry out a specific plan to fill the gaps we have identified. The available options include attending professional conferences, enrolling for workshops or credit courses, reading professional literature, and consulting with professional colleagues.
9. We can use TEKS-based educational objectives as the basis for reporting to parents on student progress. Parents want to know how their kids are doing. Often they are not satisfied with traditional letter grades, which may be inflated and typically provide no frame of reference. Neither are they satisfied with paragraph after paragraph of meaningless education jargon. The best way to report student progress to parents is to provide a brief summary of the extent to which the student has achieved each of a short list of TEKS-based objectives.
10. We can use TEKS to provide a vision for music education. In the final analysis, the most basic rationale for TEKS is that schools can be more effective if they have a clear vision of what they seek to achieve than if they don’t. That principle applies also to every program within the school. I believe that ultimately this common-sense notion will be accepted by almost everyone who takes a moment to think about the issues.
In the final analysis the most important battles to preserve and strengthen music programs will be fought district-by-district in Texas’ 1,100 school districts. Remember that it was through local pressure that music first made its way into America’s schools and it will be through local pressure that music will remain there. If we offer good quality programs, and reach large numbers of students, and have support in our communities, then music education will flourish. But if our programs are weak, or they reach only a handful of students, or we don’t have support in our local communities, then we will constantly be struggling to survive and there’s nothing that anyone in Washington or in Austin can do to help us.
In many respects this is the most exciting and eventful period in the history of education. But we have to seize the opportunity that lies before us. TEKS won’t solve all our problems, but they can be a powerful weapon in our arsenal as we seek support for our programs. What a wonderful time this is to be a music educator!
Dr. Lehman is Professor Emeritus, School of Music, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan and Past President of the Music Educators National Conference. Lehman.
This article was originally printed in the May, 1999 Southwestern Musician.