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From the Trenches: Celebrate Today… Be Vigilant All Year Long”

Mike Lawson • Features • October 21, 2006

Happy Music in Our Schools Month! A great time of year to celebrate and showcase music education and the wondrous benefits music provides to our students. It is also the time of year many groups choose to initiate local advocacy campaigns.

For me, this is an opportunity to look around and contemplate how we have done in our collective efforts to increase music’s role in our education system and to examine some of the practical realities that we face while working toward the elusive goal of “Music for Every Child.”

First of all, we have much to celebrate: standards for music and arts education have spread through the land, a federal mandate as a core subject, a renewed focus on the role of music and arts education in a NCLB environment.

Battle for Arkansas

However, we still have far to go. A majority of our schools (over half) in major urban centers do not provide instrumental music – a big concern if we really are committed to the ideal of “music for every child.” Most disconcerting to me is the recently concluded battle in the state of Arkansas.

Those who know me or regularly visit the Music for All Foundation’s Web site (www.music-for-all.org) or blog know I am a huge supporter of the Education Commission of the States (ECS) chairman and Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. I have applauded him over the years for the incredible leadership he has provided, both in Arkansas and around the country, advocating for music and the arts to be placed at the center of education reform. He launched the Arts in Education Initiative of ECS to help educate and shape the view of national and state policymakers – arguably one of the most important efforts ever undertaken to advance our field. Just last month, Governor Huckabee co-authored an essay with the United States Secretary of Education about this very issue, which was published in Education Week. He even plays bass in his own band (Capitol Offense)! In short, the man walks the talk.

My concern in Arkansas is not with the Governor. My concern is with what just transpired in the Arkansas State Legislature and the people behind this effort. As you may know, in 2001 former Arkansas Representative Pat Bond proposed, Governor Huckabee enthusiastically supported, and the legislature passed, the most significant legislation (Act 1506 – Title 6-16-130) for music and arts education in this nation, requiring that by June of 2005 every student in the state would be required to take a minimum of 60 minutes per week of music and 60 minutes per week of art, based on the state music and arts education frameworks. The classes, the law states, are to be taught by certified teachers.

In January, HB1034 was introduced in Arkansas House of Representatives that, for all intents and purposes, was designed to take the guts out of the Governor’s law. No more 60 minutes for music and art: 40 minutes for music or art (no need for both). Certified teachers? One superintendent went so far as to ask, “Why do we need certified music teachers? Anyone can turn on a CD player!”

Surely these folks weren’t serious? But, they were. More disturbing was the well-developed support for this Bill. Out of nowhere came 22 legislative co-sponsors. What moved them to join the effort? A stealth campaign by the Arkansas School Administrators Association! School Superintendents! I know… I am just as shocked as you are. Aren’t these the people who are supposed to be focused on raising standards for our children, not lowering them?

The bill passed the State House with Flying Colors (65-31 with four not voting)!
David Sanders, a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau saw the flaw to this bill immediately and wrote: “Saying a regular classroom teacher is qualified to teach music is like saying my wife is qualified to coach a football team. After all, she did have a year and a half of physical education. She is fairly proficient in how the game is played. She has general knowledge of the different positions. She’s even cheered for her choirboys as they played football. But no one would dream of calling her highly qualified to coach the sport.”

Recognizing that the music and arts community had been blindsided by the school administrators, a loose coalition of individuals and organizations came together to support the music and arts educators in Arkansas. Locally led by the Arkansas Music Educators Association, we encouraged the Arkansas Schools Boards Association and PTA to oppose this new bill, which they did. Music for All coordinated communication and strategy with National organizations and also worked with SupprtMusic.com to push information to any group with Arkansas members so they could engage in this effort.

Americans for the Arts created and maintained a Web site for Arkansas advocates to use in order to send personal e-mail messages to the members of the Arkansas House and Senate. Not to be outdone, Governor Huckabee called every member of the Senate Education Committee (of which two former music educators sit) into his office to make his views on this issue clear.

For a week and a half the battle went back and forth between new bills, amendments, alternatives, and amendments to amendments. But our loose coalition remained strong and focused on our goal: Music and Art taught to the state frameworks by certified teachers for every child. The result…?

Victory!

After being trounced in the House, an extensively amended version of HB1034 (rewritten to address most of the music and arts community’s concerns) was presented and unanimously passed by the Senate Education Committee and then passed the full Senate. The House Education Committee and the full House then passed the Senate version.

Everything was restored to the original version of the law, with the exception of the 60-minute time commitment (which was now mandated at no less than 40 minutes each for music and art – a compromise to secure the most important aspects of the law). Classes, to be taught by certified instructors, are now mandated in both music and art. In essence, this effort ensures that every child who attends a public school in Arkansas will have music and art as part of a basic education! The “real world” impact? Over the next five years 500,000 children in Arkansas receive music and art education, taught by certified teachers.

On February 22, 2005 Governor Huckabee signed this sweeping legislation into state law.

Unity and Persistence

The lesson here is in how the music and arts education (and broader arts community) came together against long odds and won a major victory for arts education. The bad news is we are seeing more and more school administrators in districts and states across this country target music and arts programs. This is not to say that all school administrators agree with these tactics. I know of many who are appalled by this type of approach to education. But to have a state association of school administrators behind a bill designed to gut the very existence of music and arts programs shows us that, as a community, we have a lot of work ahead of us. If legislation passed by a popular Governor can be nearly dismantled, are any programs or policies around the country ever really safe?

The ultimate lesson here is that every one of us who cares about music education must take advantage of each opportunity to discuss, promote, and advocate the importance of music in our schools – not just in March, …but all year long.

Bob Morrison is the chairman and CEO of the Music for All Foundation. He has been one of the nation’s top advocates for music and arts education for more than 15 years. You can read more of Bob’s musings on the Music for All Blog and find resources to support music education at: www.music-for-all.org.

 

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