Inside the “Best Communities For Music Education” Program

Mike Lawson • Archives • October 11, 2011

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The Best Communities for Music Education (BCME) program began as a program in the American Music Conference (AMC) and merged with the NAMM Foundation that was formed about five years ago. As a signature program of the NAMM Foundation, BCME recognizes schools and communities for their support of music education as a core academic subject.  As a national recognition program, it gives local music education teachers, leaders and advocates a tool to increase visibility and support for their music programs.  The recognition stimulates public support and funding for music education programs in communities across the country; over the years, this has been demonstrated many times over.

Supporting music education on the community level is a critically important issue within our industry, particularly in light of tight budgets and changing attitudes. Music research continues to add more weight to the conclusion that active participation in music offers many benefits for developing young minds.


Inspired by annual “Best 100 Places to Live” lists, BCME was established in 1999 to recognize and celebrate schools, their administrators, teachers, board members, parents, and students for their support of music education and their efforts to assure access to all students as part of the core curriculum.

Right from the beginning, this program was designed to appeal to individuals’ sense of community pride and competitiveness and provided national recognition to programs that were a source of pride for parents, teachers, and school leaders.  Over time, the recognition was used to advance support for music education and, in some instances, actually saved programs from decreased funding or cuts.

While “awareness-raising” can often be a hollow response to a problem, the decline in public music education funding had several characteristics that made the creation of awareness a solid response. While more than 90 percent of Americans (in a 2003 Gallup poll) agreed that music should be part of a child’s music education, many adults – informed by their own long-ago school experiences – believed music remained all but universally available. Showing them this was not the case became a key objective for the campaign. In addition, since educational decisions are largely made at the local level, it was important to hold up communities with strong music education programs as an example to others, mostly, as an example that supporting and sustaining music education programs was possible – even in tough economic times. Ultimately, the program raises a very specific type of awareness – pride – to make it a factor in local decision-making where school music was concerned.  The program’s core messages include:

  • • Active participation in music is vital for developing young minds
  • • Music is not a “luxury” or an “elective” – it should be a core subject like math or English
  • • Offering and preserving music education is something any community can accomplish if it has the collective will to do so, regardless of size or affluence

The survey used in the BCME application process was initially designed to measure a variety of criteria including funding, graduation requirement  s, music class participation, instruction time, facilities, support for the music program, commitment to high quality teachers and other relevant factors in their communities’ music education programs. All metrics are reviewed proportionally, so that communities of different sizes can participate on an equal footing; for example, a community’s music budget is judged as a proportion of the overall instructional budget, not in absolute dollars.

The foundation of the survey message has been consistent throughout the program’s existence, with periodic adjustments. For example, in 2003 and 2004, the survey was couched in the national debate over implementation of the federal “No Child Left Behind” education law.

Early Hurdles and Evolution

Establishing and building credibility for the survey was crucial right from the start.  The “research” phase of the BCME program, which informed the creation of the survey document and the statistical model used to evaluate its results, involved going directly to primary sources by recruiting the leading organizations in the fields of music and education. In 2011, the NAMM Foundation was joined by advisory organizations Americans for the Arts (, League of American Orchestras (, The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation (, Music for All (, Music Teachers National Association (, National Guild For Community Arts Education (, Yamaha Corporation of America (, Young Audiences (, National PTA (, and VH1 Save The Music Foundation (  These organizations not only advised on the survey content, but also distributed the availability of the survey to their constituents across the country.

The survey has historically launched at the NAMM Show each January and is open for information upload via the Internet for approximately two months, at which point a survey company analyzed the data. Each community that entered had its responses rendered into a single overall score, which are ranked to provide a preliminary list of top communities. Live telephone audits confirmed the submissions of the top ranking communities. (In 2010, the “100” designation was dropped and the scoring system refined to allow the designation to be awarded to schools and communities reaching the 80 percentile and above; most recently, individual schools have been permitted to participate in the survey.) Since 2009, the Best Community for Music Education survey has been administered by The Institute for Educational Research and Public Service of Lawrence, Kan., an affiliate of the University of Kansas.

The final results of the survey were the subject of a media pitch that encompassed national outlets as well as local outlets in each community on the list. NAMM and partner organization principals were used as interview subjects, and interviews were conducted in such a manner as to focus attention on the overall importance of music education.


BCME is an organized way to shine the spotlight on community music programs: it saves and grows programs. While music teachers don’t always realize that advocacy has to be ongoing, BCME helps identify communities that support music education and are committed to program sustainability and expansion.  The program celebrates what teachers and their students are doing, and support is likely to follow as a result.

The BCME program has subsequently generated an extraordinarily high volume of media results over the years, raised the profile of music education as an issue among community decision-makers, and played a definitive role in preserving music programs in a number of communities across the nation.

Through this campaign – engaging local-level media outlets that wield considerable influence over community decision-making – we accomplish three beneficial effects:

  • • Attach a public, measurable value to music education within a given community
  • • Provide public acclaim for educators, parents and decision-makers who value music
  • • Generate discussion in all communities on the topic in general

We want and need more communities to be involved for their own good and for the good that access to music education provides all children as part of a complete and quality education. And we want all that apply to earn the designation, celebrate their success and commitment to music education, and use it to keep support flowing for their programs.

We want more diversity in the applicants – more rural communities, more large urban areas, and the charter schools are also now starting to seek the designation.  And we want music dealers to become more involved, insisting that their school customers work to get the BCME designation and being involved with community-wide celebrations and recognition events when they do.

Overall, we need to get our whole industry involved. If every NAMM member were to e-blast the survey to their respective groups, and used it to build their programs, what would music education look like?

Promote, Promote, Promote

BCME is a program that helps communities put a stake in the ground for the value and importance of their music education programs.  It is part of a fabric of advocacy efforts provided by NAMM that work to keep music education strong.

Peter Giles is president of Giles Communications, a public relations, social media marketing and online design firm dedicated to the music products industry and the music education cause. Over the past 25 years, the company has represented many industry leading organizations, including the NAMM Foundation, Yamaha, Hal Leonard, Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation and VH1 Save the Music. Learn more at

The NAMM Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to advancing active participation in music making across the lifespan by supporting scientific research, philanthropic giving and public service programs from the international music products industry. For more information, interested parties can visit

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