From the Trenches: Why Not Focus on Positive Trends?

Mike Lawson • Commentary • June 21, 2013

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As the 2012/2013 school year comes to a close and plans for the upcoming year begin to take shape, this is a good time to evaluate where we are, the condition of our programs, our prospects for a new year, and ways we may work to improve our programs. This is also a good time to take stock of the environment in which our programs exist, the bigger picture of music education across the country.


It would be easy to look at all the gloomy headlines about budget cuts and teacher evaluations, and the general negative tone toward teachers we have all read over the course of the year. However, to focus on these issues would be a mistake. They are not the true measures of the condition of our field or where we are heading.

Instead, I prefer to look at what has been reported as a more legitimate sign of the future of our field. Here are some headlines and related backstory about them, and these are just the ones I came across during the first few weeks of May:


Mayor Emanuel Announces $1 Million Investment in High-Quality Arts Education for All Chicago Public School Students


“Every child in this city deserves a quality education, no matter where they live. Incorporating the arts into all levels of education is an essential piece in helping our children thrive,” said Mayor Emanuel. “For the first time, our schools have a comprehensive Arts Education Plan that aligns them with Chicago’s Cultural Plan and opens new possibilities for our children.”

This announcement demonstrates the city’s commitment to a long-range plan to bring music and arts education back to all students. Components of the plan include:

  • • Dedicated weekly arts instructional time: 20 minutes/week for elementary school students and increased arts credit options for high school students
  • • Significant increases in professional development and training for teachers, principals, and arts partners
  • • Increased community partnerships for schools, tapping the resources of Chicago’s cultural institutions and community organizations and
  • • Increased funding assistance and strategies to ensure arts instruction in every school, including diversifying the types of arts offerings in schools and increasing dedicated supplies and resources.

Source: Press Release, Office of the Mayor, May 15, 2013 (Online at:


Mayor McGinn Joins with Seattle Public Schools to Invest in Arts Education

Seattle Mayor Mike

McGinn announced that every student in the Central Pathway of SPS will “receive a minimum of two hours per week of arts education programming, as well as support for the purchase of instruments and other arts supplies for classrooms,” according to a press release on the plan. 

“This investment will allow us to deepen our existing partnership with Seattle Public Schools to improve access to arts education for all students in our community” said Mayor McGinn. “Arts education has been consistently shown to improve educational outcomes, increase attendance rates and decrease discipline rates.”

Source: West Seattle Herald May 14, 2013 (Online at:


Principal Fires Security Guards to Hire Arts Teachers and Transforms Elementary School

In a school notorious for its lack of discipline, where backpacks were prohibited for fear the students would use them to carry weapons, principal Andrew Bott’s bold decision to replace the security guards with art teachers was met with skepticism by those who also questioned why he would choose to lead the troubled school.  

But now, three years later, the school is almost unrecognizable. Brightly colored paintings, essays of achievement, and motivational posters line the halls. The dance studio has been resurrected, along with the band room, and an artists’ studio.

The end result? Orchard Gardens has one of the fastest student improvement rates statewide. And the students – once described as loud and unruly – have found their focus.

Source: NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams (Online at:

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