Music Education Hitting High Notes in Every Student Succeeds Act

by Katelyn Becker

Although most people agree that music education is a positive addition to school curriculum, these programs have often been left on the cutting-room-floor after budget allocations and funding. Despite the benefits, schools were constricted by standardized testing and the No Child Left Behind Act.

On December 10, 2015 President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The act emphasized a holistic education for students meaning an education where they get more than just math and language arts. It also recognizes music education as an integral part to a holistic and well-rounded education.

Ronny Lau is the Legislative Policy Advisor at The National Association for Music Education. According to him, “music education now has a seat at the table.”

For people who have rallied for better funding for music education, this law is groundbreaking. Music education is finally recognized and validated as an important step to shaping the minds of students. As school systems begin to chart their courses going forward with ESSA, many students, teachers and advocates are anticipating the impact that it will have on music education across the country.

Going forward, the impact of the law has yet to play out in school systems in D.C. and across the country but some advocates are hoping for some changes.AAA

Every Student Succeeds Act

ESSA is replacing the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which both parties and educators criticized for the amount of standardized testing and rigidness in funding for schools. The country is shifting from a federal common core structure to giving the power back to states, however the Department of Education is overseeing their actions by monitoring the states. After the NCLB Act was unsuccessful, Congressional leaders from both political parties worked together to propose the ESSA that passed in December.

In a recent hearing at the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, committee member Robert Scott said that this legislation was a bipartisan effort.

“In a time when Congress is often chastised for its brokenness and compromise we clearly accomplished a great deal coming to a consensus to pass this major legislation,” Scott said.

The policies described steps toward holistic education and more importantly a shift in power to the state and local governments. The legislation gives most of the control for education to local governments, and the federal government will have the responsibility of overseeing the implementation.

Chairman John Kline said that the country had tried the “top-down approach to education during the common core era.” He said therefore, ESSA is a clear push for education to be mostly controlled by the state and local governments across the country.

States and school districts now have the power, which makes the allocation of funding a lot more flexible. Music educators now have the chance to convince their communities that they need to be recognized. The funding of the music programs continue to be up to the school systems, but hopefully without less testing, there will be room for funding for the arts.

Inside the classroom

Sarah Frei is the performing arts teacher at Horace Mann Elementary School in Washington, D.C. She understands the education system in D.C. through interacting with music students at her job.

Frei has been a teacher since graduating from college. When she returned after raising her children, she said she looked for a job that would combine her passions for teaching, music and history.

“As I recall, there was not enough funding for a full-time music teacher,” she said. “I began teaching music and performing arts to the 3rd-5th graders only but as more money became available, I eventually became the full-time performing arts teacher for the entire school.”

When it comes to music education, she said the counterargument is that school systems tend to focus on programs that help the core subjects.

“I think music education has not been funded in the past because when all is said and done, priority has always been given to those programs that directly deal with the teaching of reading, writing and math,” she said. “The classroom teachers’ schedules and needs come first and it’s hard to argue against that when test scores loom large in our school system.”

Now, ESSA is changing how the education system views standardized testing while evaluating a school. At the House hearing, Secretary of Education John King said that No Child Left Behind narrowed the idea of education excellence. ESSA is pushing to broaden this by changing the way the U.S. uses testing.

The new law will allow the state to determine how important test scores really are in the scope of the evaluation of a school. He said this would alleviate test anxiety, stop teachers from teaching to the test and allow for a more well-rounded evaluation of both teacher and student. The act also gives the state the option to decide whether parents can opt their children out of standardized testing.

As ESSA slowly changes the scope of test scores and evaluation of schools, this would allow even more flexibility for school systems to adjust their funding. With the alleviation of this pressure, schools can allocate money where they see fit.

“If I had my chance, I’d invite lawmakers to see one of my musicals…then there would be the proper funding for music education across the land,” Frei said.

Paving the Way to Grassroots Advocacy

Music education may now be included in the law, but what really matters is what goes on in the classroom.

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) is an advocacy group based in D.C. NAfME has been fighting the good fight since 1907. They have 60,000 members across the country and all of them are music educators who work with kids K-12 and beyond.

Ronny Lau, along with two other NAfME registered lobbyists, try to convince the government for more funding and allocation for music education. They also provide educators with the tools that they need to lobby their superintendents and school districts for more funding.

“The state of music education is fantastic, but at the same time there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” Lau said.

NAfME is taking advantage of this progressive time in education by providing educators tool kits and information to present to the people in charge. Lau said that previously the law included the arts in their core education policy, so administrators could interpret “art” in any way they wanted. Often music programs were the first to get cut. That meant the money that school districts allocated for the arts ended up being split between art and music programs.

Lau said it’s up to music educators to communicate their needs to their local governments to slowly create change.

“What we’re really working on right now is making sure all 60,000 members are engaged and understand what the law actually means so that they can actually present it to their administrators, school boards and those who make these financial decisions so they know that there are these funds now available to support their music programs” he said.

Now that music education is specifically named in the law, the hope is that programs will finally receive funding if superintendents understand the new law and care to fund the music programs.

“It all starts from the power of numbers,” Lau said.

What benefits does music education offer?

Music education has been long regarded as beneficial for students, especially K-12. Many advocates differ on how they view the benefits of music education, but most agree with ESSA-music should be included in the promotion of a well-rounded student.

Ty Russell is the director of student affairs and outreach at Sitar Arts Center in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C. Since music education programs have been cut in the past, Sitar Arts Center is a place where students can go after school to take music and art lessons in a variety of disciplines. The center is also focused on teaching life skills, alongside honing a student’s craft.

“Even more than we try to teach the particular art forms, we want to impart what we call 21st century life skills,” Russell said.

He said that teaching the arts can help students learn skills like problem solving, planning, completion and follow through. They also learn to apply creativity to any situation.

“I see the benefits of arts education on a daily basis,” Russell said. The benefits of this type of education can be quite personal. One example he used was a student he was working with who had problems with impulse control and at school she was being disruptive in class. She also had difficulty focusing. But, she came to Sitar and found that she loved collaging and art. She got so involved in her collage project that it is helping improve her focus issues.

“Self expression involves being in touch with yourself and investigating, delving into what makes you tick, and as you learn to express yourself through whatever art form it is you’re working in, you discover things about yourself,” Russell said.

Russell sees the addition of arts education giving people a vehicle to communicate who they are.

Another benefit is that the arts allows for feedback from others. Russell said this enables students to take pride in their ability to express themselves, especially in a way that they never thought they could before trying an instrument or learning a new skill.

Nancy Snider is the director of the music program at American University. In March she attended a roundtable of advocates with arts administrators to discuss a recent film about a choral program. Having served on the panel discussing the importance of music education, she recommended Americans for the Arts as a helpful resource for advocates.

In the panel, a man from Americans for the Arts was presenting various pitches to help spread the word about arts education. Snider said that to get your point across, you need to connect it to something your audience is interested.

“If you’re speaking to a room of scientists and mathematicians about the arts, sure, get them interested by talking about the transfer values of the arts or talking about how music and the mind intersect,” she said. Transfer values are hard skills that can be applied to other things such as: working with others, and improving from feedback.

Then advocates need to take it to the next level. She argued that schools should have music education, not just for the transfer skills, but also because music is art and art helps shape a better society. After finding common ground with your audience she said, “talk about the quality of the art, and the art for art’s sake.”

 

She also said that it’s important people receive this education at a young age because it is more difficult to start an instrument later in life.

“It’s essential that we start to teach people from a very young age so that they have a strong foundation and so that they’re able to fully develop as artists and to develop their vocabulary in whatever their discipline happens to be,” Snider said.

If you visit the NAfME website, they provide research and examples of studies showing the hard data of the benefits of music education. For example, they link to a study by College Board in 2012 that shows the increase in test scores when a student takes a class about music appreciation or performance. In addition, there’s also a chance that participation in a musical activity shows that the student is well-rounded, increasing his or her chance of being accepted to a competitive college program.

graph music education
This graph shows the SAT scores of students who took music classes versus students who took none. Graph made by Katelyn Becker using the statistics fro College Board’s study 2012

 

 

What’s Next

About 200 executive board members and chairs of The National Association for Music Education will attend the NAfME Hill Day event in D.C this June.

“They usually have a specific task or agenda that they take to their legislators office, whether it’s their senator or their house of representatives member,” Lau said. “They’ll talk about what our legislative priorities are for the upcoming year.”

With ESSA being implemented this year, they will have a lot to talk about.

Arts education is music to Ty Russell’s ears

by: Katelyn Becker

Ty Russell, director of student affairs and outreach at Sitar Arts Center, spoke about how work at the art center is enriching their student artists and their community.

WASHINGTON- Sitar Arts Center is tucked away on a quiet street in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C. But when you step inside, the facilities bustle with children talking, laughing and making music.

 

Sitar Arts Center is a non-profit art center with a multitude of classes ranging from music education and lessons, to performing and visual arts. They cater to every age from early childhood classes to adult classes. Ty Russell teaches private music classes, recording engineering classes, DJ studio class and more. He is also a liaison between children and their parents and said he makes a lot of phone calls to parents during the day about attendance, behavior issues and anything that comes up.

 

Russell has worked with music in some capacity for his whole life. His mother was a guitar player and middle school math teacher, and he grew up with his mom playing to all of the neighborhood kids. “She had sort of a captive audience and she would sing her folk songs to us which was awesome,” he said. When Russell began high school and joined bands, his mom would let the groups rehearse at his house and store their instruments in their basement. The instruments in his basement were too temping and Russell said “of course if instruments are there I’m going to play them.” Before he knew it, he was teaching neighborhood kids how to play.

 

Russell then attended technical school to learn the art of recording and UDC to study music. From then on he became a professional musician and music teacher.

 

Russell grew up in the suburb of Columbia, Maryland. He said that he grew up in a place where most people in the neighborhood knew each other and were friends. “We had our little neighborhood and cul-de-sac where we all knew each other, we all worked together and it was fun,” he said. “I’ve always maintained this community model.” So, when his friend working at Sitar was leaving, he recommended Russell for his current job. Russell said he really identified with the spirit of the place. “It’s a place where community happens,” he said.

 

Russell also said that Sitar works mainly with low-income families. “80% of our student body falls below 50% of the median income” he said.

 

“People assume because we’re in Adams Morgan which is becoming an increasingly expensive neighborhood to live in,” Russell  said, “it’s an easy assumption to make that we’re not an affordable place to take arts classes but it’s exactly the opposite.” He said that rates are affordable and they work with people from any income level. “No one is turned away for financial reasons,” he said.

 

Since Sitar works with people that are struggling financially, it allows for diversity among students. Russell said, “It’s one of the beautiful things about Sitar that it’s diverse not just in terms of race, ethnicity and background, but also in terms of income level and class.”

 

Russell said most of the teachers are volunteers that are professionals working in music and arts who donate their time to work with students. “That brings with it a certain spirit of wanting to contribute and wanting to give back so to speak to the community,” Russell said.

 

Sitar Arts Center is also focused on teaching life skills alongside honing a student’s craft. “Even more than we try to teach the particular art forms, we want to impart what we call 21st century life skills,” Russell said. He said that teaching the arts can also teach a student skills like problem solving, planning, completion and follow through. They also learn to apply creativity to any situation.

 

“I see the benefits of arts education on a daily basis,” Russell said. One example he used was a student he was working with who had problems with impulse control and at school she was being disruptive in class. She also had difficulty focusing. But, she came to Sitar and found that she loved collaging and art. She got so involved in her collage project that it is helping improve her focus issues.

 

The benefits of this type of education can be quite personal. Russell said, “Self expression involves being in touch with yourself and investigating, delving into what makes you tick, and as you learn to express yourself through whatever art form it is you’re working in, you discover things about yourself.” Russell said that he sees that the addition of arts education gives people a vehicle to communicate who they are.

 

Another benefit is that the arts allows for feedback from others. Russell said this enables students to take pride in their ability to express themselves especially in a way that they never thought they could before trying an instrument or learning a new art form.

 

Russell said Sitar is all about building relationships. Community minded artists volunteer to be teachers and often mentors to help young people who are disengaged and not fitting in. By introducing music and art and helping them find a way to express themselves, Sitar also helps them connect to themselves, their families and their community.

 

House discusses who implements new education policy

by: Katelyn Becker

WASHINGTON- The House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on Thursday to discuss how the federal government will implement the new education policy called the Every Student Succeeds Act.

 

Acting Secretary of Education Dr. John B King was the witness for the hearing with the committee. King answered questions from the committee about the specifics regarding the new education policy, which will heavily alter the school system. After a bipartisan congressional agreement to scrap the Common Core, Obama signed ESSA into effect in December.

 

Obama signing the ESSA means that American education is shifting. It’s replacing the No Child Left Behind Act which was criticized by both parties and educators for the amount of standardized testing and rigidness in funding for schools. The country is shifting from a federal common core structure and giving the power back to the states with federal oversight from the Department of Education. After the NCLB act was unsuccessful, congressional leaders from both political parties contributed to the progress made.

 

Robert Scott said that this legislation was a bipartisan effort, “in a time when Congress is often chastised for its brokenness and compromise we clearly accomplished a great deal coming to a consensus to pass this major legislation,” Scott said. Although the legislation gives most of the control for education on to local governments, the federal government will have the responsibility of overseeing the implementation. The policies include steps toward holistic education. Holistic education would mean more emphasis on the music and arts, socio-emotional development. It would also mean less standardized testing and most importantly, more power to state and local governments and their role in a child’s education.

 

Chairman John Kline said that the country had tried the “top down approach to education during the common core era.” He said therefore, ESSA is a clear push for education to be mostly controlled by the state and local governments across the country. The act positions the federal government as simply providing oversight to the implementation of quality education. Most of the hearing discussed the logistics of this relationship between the federal and local government.

 

King, in his opening statement said, “What we do at the Federal level is support states and districts to improve opportunity for all students, invest in local innovation, research and scale what works, ensure transparency, and protect our students’ civil rights, providing guardrails to ensure educational opportunity for all children.”

 

The approach to education from a civil-rights standpoint also came up often in the hearing. The committee asked several questions about students with disabilities, students of color and students that speak English as their second language. King said, “I look forward to continuing to work with this committee to ensure that in America, education is, as it must be, the great equalizer.” King also said that the civil rights legacy is central to the implementation of these policies.

 

King said that ESSA will involve a more holistic approach to education. He said that it’s, “an opportunity to broaden the idea of educational excellence.” Not only will it be the responsibility of the state to ensure the child is educated in the classic way. King said the policy also allows for states to fund what they want which could provide growth in access to music and arts education, development of socio-emotional skills, ability to participate in civic discourse and attention when a child is chronically absent. King said, “I think the state chiefs are eager to have that flexibility.”

 

The act is also changing how the education system views standardized testing in the process of evaluating a school. King said with NCLB they narrowed the idea of education excellence and ESSA is pushing to broaden this. According to committee member Glenn Thompson, the policy will allow the state to determine how important test scores really are in the scope of the evaluation of a school. He said this would alleviate test anxiety, stop teachers from teaching to test, and allow for a more holistic evaluation of both teacher and student. The act also gives the state the option to decide whether parents can opt their children out of standardized testing.

 

Regarding the federal involvement in ensuring the implementation of this plan, King said they will, “provide clarity and offer examples.” When it comes to other elements like integrating Advanced Placement classes or ensuring growth in STEM, King said it is up to the states to incorporate those as they see fit. He also said it is involves an evidence-based intervention so the states must report their data to the federal government.

 

Congress wants to implement ESSA by the summer 2017 when states will have to be ready with their plans. As education lands back in the hands of the states and things are changing in the school system King said, “the best ideas will come from the classrooms.”

Gretchen Rubin Speaks About Habits and Happiness

by Katelyn Becker

Gretchen Rubin had lunch with an acquaintance and they began to talk about the person’s running habits. Rubin listened as the woman said that she used to exercise daily while running track in high school and she genuinely enjoyed the exercise. Except that person couldn’t motivate herself to run anymore. That’s when Rubin became fascinated with the affect habits have on a person’s life. “I became determined to solve the puzzle about habits,” Rubin said as she began her book talk at Politics and Prose.

Rubin emphasized how habits shape our decisions. She said “they are the invisible architecture of our life.” Often these patterns govern our lifestyle in ways we don’t even realize. She said that when it comes to lifestyle changes, people often want to make a habit out of exercise or meditating. But even for the woman who enjoyed running in high school, “people just as often complain about things they love to do,” Rubin said.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of “The Happiness Project,” which sold millions and has been translated into 30 languages. Her new book is called “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives.”

IMG_6877.JPG

 

Half of the battle is getting to know yourself and how you respond to expectations in your life Rubin said. For people trying to stick to New Year’s resolutions, she said that it takes 21 days to make and break a habit. If you can tailor how you set up new habits in your life, it becomes easier for you to personally succeed. For typical habit plans Rubin said, “What I’ve noticed is that these work sometimes for some people.”  Everyone is different.

The first thing that Rubin said you have to learn about yourself is if you are a morning person or a night person. Rubin said it’s a factor that divides us pretty accurately. Some wake up and can be productive, while others stay up until 2 a.m. pumping out work. Being happy means setting up your life in a way that enables you to succeed.

Similar to morning v. night people, Rubin said that there are also two divisive categories when it comes to vices. When people abstain from something (whether it be cigarettes or ice cream) there are two types of people: the moderators and the abstainers. The moderators can only get by if they allow themselves a small dose of the vice sometimes to keep them going. On the other hand, abstainers are all or nothing people and either can have it or they can’t have any. Rubin admitted she was an abstainer. “I’ve never had a half a dish of ice cream in my entire life,” she said. When trying to stop a bad habit, it’s important to understand how you can chart it according to your tendency. “If you can’t do a little, try none,” Rubin said.

She also said that if there is an activity you want to truly integrate into your life, then goals can pose danger. “Aiming for a goal is a great way to achieve a goal,” Rubin said. She explained that setting goals means there is an endpoint and often people don’t make it a habit after they get to the finish line. She said with diets, people often set a goal weight and once they reach it, they go right back to eating how they were before. Rubin said it’s not about an end goal, “it’s about eating healthy forever.”

She described her book’s personality framework that separates people into four categories. The framework is designed to assess how a person responds to expectations. There are the upholders who meet all deadlines and fulfill every obligation within themselves and put on them by others. There are the questioners who question every expectation and only do it if it makes sense. There are the obligers who only succeed if they have outer expectation and pressure from others but the inner desire is not there. Lastly, there are rebels who only do what they want. The majority of people are obligers.

Rubin said that the happiest people are the ones who know their tendencies, accept themselves, and implement healthy habits in a way that will work for them. For example, for an obliger personality, if he or she wants to exercise, they should call up a friend or teach an exercise class.

Rubin is a graduate of Yale Law School where she was the editor of the Yale Journal. After graduating, she used to clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She then realized that she needed to pursue what made her happy, which was writing. “I’m at my happiest when I’m at a library or bookstore,” Rubin said as she looked at the packed room of people. The writer drew such a large crowd on Sunday that many people had to stand and sit on the floor.

To Rubin, the key to making happiness a habit is self-acceptance. Once we accept our personality traits, our tendencies, and the way we act under expectations, we can learn how to effectively implement healthy habits in our lives. Once you have the aims, you can set up your life in order to maintain healthy habits. It’s about “How can I get the world to suit me better?” Rubin said.

Leaning In At AU

By: Katelyn Becker

Caroline Jureller, a senior at American University, is showing women can run the world, and the workplace.

Jureller is the co-president of Lean In at AU, which is a global club that promotes gender equality through small circle discussions. Jureller and a recent graduate brought it to AU during her sophomore year. They formed the group after reading the book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg.

IMG_6849
Caroline Jureller with Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Photo by Katelyn Becker

Jureller came to AU because she said it was “a place where students had a voice.” This feature became more important to her as she became an upperclassman and desired leadership. When her friend approached her to form a “Lean In circle” at AU, Jureller said, “yea absolutely.”

Since her sophomore year she has organized small groups called Lean In circles where women and men can talk about the gender issues they face at work and on a daily basis. Jureller said she became passionate about gender equality when she came to college and while interning felt the gender imbalance among her coworkers.

Regarding career choices, “a lot of women take themselves out of the game before they’re even playing,” Jureller said. In the book Sandberg wrote about a woman who was scared to apply for a job because she feared it would interfere with marriage and children. The kick was, the woman wasn’t in a relationship yet and wasn’t a mother.

The book is relatable for both men and women according to Jureller. “Women can’t succeed without the help of men,” said Jureller. She explained that women are often too afraid to speak up, then men become unaware of the challenges women face.

Jureller described that gender equality also relies on the way women view themselves and their goals. She said that many women doubt their abilities. “I used to ask myself why” and after reading the book, “I started thinking why not,” Jureller said.

To her, the most exciting part of being involved is the global reach that Lean In circles have established. After attending a Lean In conference in California, Jureller realized tens of thousands of women were attending these circles from the Middle East, to China to the U.S. military.

Outside of AU, Jureller has started circles at high schools back home in New Jersey. Her job after graduation even has a Lean In circle at the office. She also said that continuing her advocacy has a lot to do with the way she views women on a daily basis. Jureller said, “women helping other women is something I take with me in every single setting.”

Click to join or start a Lean In circle!