You CAN Make a Difference
I often use this space to provide advocacy advice and suggest strategies for use in saving, maintaining, and expanding programs for everyone to consider. Not today.
Instead, I want to share with you an actual exchange with a band director whose program was in an immediate crisis.
I was recently on vacation with my family in Washington D.C. I spend so much time there on business that I rarely get to actually take in and enjoy the wonderful historic and cultural offerings this magnificent city has to offer. When I travel I carry my Treo 650 Smartphone so I can stay on top of any issue that may need a quick response.
One item linked to my email address is a “Panic Button” on our Web site that was created for someone to press if they were facing an immediate crisis and needed an immediate response. This is part of our deep commitment to help individual music supporters be as effective as possible when a music program is at risk.
After a fantastic day touring the capital, visiting where money is made, walking the Smithsonian Gardens, visiting the Washington Monument, the World War II and Lincoln Memorials, we headed back to our hotel near the White House to rest before dinner.
Checking my email the following appeared (Note: The name has been changed for privacy purposes):
From: Suzanne Bennett
Date: Thu, 5 Apr 2007 16:06:56 -0400
Conversation: WE NEED HELP NOW!
Subject: WE NEED HELP NOW!
Something that I have been fearful of for some time was confirmed to me today in an administrative meeting with my superintendent and the 2 elementary school principals.
They will be recommending at Monday nights Board meeting to not fill the elementary instrumental position in our school. Their plan is to replace the position instead with an after school position/s.
They have been most careful in their semantics. Their position is that they are NOT cutting a program just delivering it in a different way.
Their major reason is they don’t feel that students should be missing other classes for band.
So now instead of an elementary instrumental music teacher, we will have a collection of "qualified" teachers that will come to after school on a weekly basis at the elementary schools to provide lessons.
I would greatly appreciate anyone who can tell me where this happens and the level of success of it. Specifics about why it doesn't work or what would need to be done to make it work are most desired.
If you are aware of how elementary lessons are taught in any of your schools I would appreciate that info so I can use it Monday. When I told them that every other school that I am aware of has elementary band pull out lessons, they appeared dumbfounded. They wanted to know how this worked. It would also be helpful to know how many music teachers your district employees and their teaching responsibilities.
Any sources and/or sites that you could recommend I consult would be greatly appreciated since Monday night I will have an opportunity to address the board before their decision.
Wow! It is early Thursday evening, before the Easter holiday weekend and she has to have a plan in place to defend her program by Monday! Unfortunately, this is an all too common scenario for many music and arts educators. So, what can we do with such short notice?
How to proceed?
Let’s deconstruct the problem. What issues are illuminated in this email and what do they really mean?
First – Why are they proposing making the program an “after-school program?”
They don’t feel that students should be missing other classes for band.
Ahhhh… they do not like the pullout program for lessons. What they (the administrators) mean by this statement is they are concerned the pullout program will have an adverse impact on the school’s test scores. (Note to self – send information on how pullout programs have no impact on academic performance of participating students.)
Second – What does this mean for student participation? Will this make the program available to more students… or less? Let’s see: program part of the regular curriculum available to all. After-school, available to some. This is an equity issue!
Third – What will happen to the program?
They “are NOT cutting a program, just delivering it in a different way.”
Semantic gymnastics… a friend of mine from Texas once told me, “You can put lipstick on a pig, put her in a pretty dress and call her Irene, but when you kiss her a pig is still a pig.” It does not matter the semantic lengths administrators go to when dressing up their policies. A cut is still a cut.
Lastly – How does this compare to how other schools deliver instrumental music?
This one is easy. Instrumental programs moved to after-school usually show a significant reduction in student participation. This is why programs that are part of the curriculum are more prevalent and preferable. Again, this is an equity issue.
OK – time to craft a response. My actual email is below – bad grammar and all as typed on my thumbpad!
Subj: Re: WE NEED HELP NOW!
Date: Thu Apr 5, 2007 5:27 pm
To: "Suzanne Bennett"
I am traveling right now but wanted to respond. If you email me your phone number I can call you on Saturday to go over in detail. What state are you in?
The big issue is the fact that this school will be moving in a direction CONTRARY to most other schools. They ARE cutting the academic course since this is now after-school. This also means there is no credit for the course. In addition… highly qualified teachers, based on NCLB, means certified teachers. Not sure any certified teacher would agree to participate this charade.
Most importantly… This is now an access and equity issue. The only students who can be in the ensemble are those who will have a ride, do not have other after school commitments, etc. If a student does not have a ride or has other commitments – tough luck. This kind of program will create a cultural caste system of haves and have-nots.
There is also plenty of research that shows pullout programs DO NOT detract from other subjects… and that students that perform in instrumental ensembles out perform their peers that are not. I will send these to you.
If the goal is to improve school performance then all research points to the fact that they should be INCREASING the instrumental program… Not reducing it.
The reality is this is a program CUT. They can call it anything they want… But a cut is still a cut.
(sent from a wireless device)
Form a Plan
Over the weekend I spoke with a couple other people from the area including the local school music dealer. After gathering information from a variety of sources (Music for All, the local music products retailer, the state music educators association) Suzanne developed a simple and straightforward plan… something anyone can do:
1. Arm Yourself with Facts – Acquire all the information, data and testimonials to refute the very reasons the district is considering a program reduction or cut. Then provide information regarding the positive benefits of the music program to contrast any statements that may attempt to undermine the value of the program.
2. Present Your Case in an Unemotional Way – The “Joe Friday” approach of “Just the Facts” is the best way to layout your position. Overly emotional or hysterical presentations only work to harden the position of your opponent. (For those who do not know who Joe Friday is Google “Dragnet.”)
3. Look for Hidden Agendas – sometimes the stated reason for doing something is not the real reason. Is this being done because the really need to save money but do not want to say so? By refuting their stated position with facts will leave the school board with two choices: 1) Respond to the facts and make the proper decision or, 2) ignore the facts and do what they want. If they ignore the facts then there is a bigger underlying issue. Ignoring the facts will also empower advocates to show how the actions are not being considered based on research, facts, and the best interest of… the students! The media always has a field day with an elected body that ignores the facts!
4. Message is Important… So is the Messenger(s) – Find the best possible people to make the case and who will be listened to by the board and who’s opinions the board will value Parents, business leaders, concerned citizens all make good presenters when they are empowered with factual information. In this case, a letter from a band director from another community was read to the full board, a lawyer, parents, and an elementary student all participated!
At the Monday evening meeting of the school board more than 200 people turned out and an effective fact-based presentation was made showing how the plan for an after-school program would undermine the entire program, demonstrated how research has shown pullout programs do not negatively impact school performance, showed how most other schools in the surrounding area have the music program as part of the school day and highlighted all the great accomplishments of this music program and students.
The outcome? The superintendent was directed by the board to verify that the facts as presented were true (and they were). Once the information was verified – the program was saved.
My point in all of this is that you are all Suzanne. She took action to save her program by gathering information and facts and presenting them in a professional non-confrontational way through effective surrogates.
The big thing that separates Suzanne from most people is she took action. And in doing so She made a difference – and you can too.
(A message from Suzanne: Do not be afraid to promote your program. She said that in hindsight she should have done a much better job promoting the program. Her concern had been that she did not want to be seen “bragging,” but now fully understands the importance of keeping the accomplishments of her students and program in front of the entire community. Want to learn more? Send me an email and we will connect you with Suzanne!)