By John Benham

Over the last several decades music advocacy has assumed a variety of approaches. It is my observation that these have essentially fallen into two categories: reactive and proactive.

Reactive Approach: This is the most common approach to music advocacy. It is identifiable by one or more of the following characteristics.

  • It assumes a reactionary posture of maintaining the status quo, often accompanied by a sense of denial in which it is assumed that the program is safe from attack.
  • There is usually not a functioning written curriculum. If there is, it rarely is being applied systematically across the district and almost never has an adequate process of assessment in place to demonstrate curricular viability.
  • There is little or no consistent curricular scope and sequence between grades and feeder schools.
  • There is no distinction between those aspects of the music program that are curricular, cocurricular, or extracurricular.
  • The program tends to be teacher- or director-centered, often with the same content repeated year after year with little or no assessment or improvement.
  • Teachers tend to operate autonomously with little accountability for student achievement other than bringing a trophy or superior rating back from the most recent event.
  • No records are kept as to the level of student participation or attrition.
  • If a community coalition is present, it is normally limited to fundraising activities, and rarely composed of a unified constituency representing all aspects of the music program. Its relationship to the district is often adversarial.

I compare the reactive approach to a person sitting in the middle of a lake in a boat with only one oar: the program just keeps going, but doesn’t necessarily make any significant progress in curricular improvement or levels of student participation.

Proactive Approach: On the other hand, as the advocacy movement picks up the second oar, it has begun to mature and has become much more effective. It is making progress as a proactive force, even upstream, and is identifiable by one or more of the following characteristics.

  • It is organized and unified in its efforts.
  • It is connected with other local, regional, and national coalitions.
  • It is becoming more prepared and strategic in its efforts.
  • It is more informed about the value of music education for its children, from both philosophical and practical perspectives.
  • Teachers are viewing themselves as music educators, not just general music, band, choir, or orchestra teachers.
  • Music teachers are becoming less competitive with each other and more focused on student-centered decision making and competence achievement.
  • It is establishing positive, collaborative working relationships with educators and legislators and has extensive involvement with the local school district. The key to becoming a proactive influence for music education is the development of a “dream list.” It is more often referred to as a long-term plan. Do you know what you want your program to look like in the next five years? Ten years? Start now! Here are a few hints to get you started. (Note: A significant part of your initial plan will be developing a profile of the current status of the music program and any factors that may inhibit progress.)
  • Establish a unified, district-wide music coalition.
  • Determine the FTE value of your music teachers.
  • Create a profile of current enrollments in band, choir, and orchestra.
  • Determine the student-to-faculty ratio (SFR) of music teachers to eligible students.
  • Develop a written curriculum, with adequate assessment procedures.
  • Define the various aspects of your music program as to its curricular, cocurricular, and extracurricular components.
  • Analyze the current status of the music budget (average allocation per student in each category of the budget).

Once you have established a profile of the current status of your program, begin to develop a dream list of ideas for improving and expanding music opportunities for students. You are asking only one question: If there were no limitations of any kind, what do you envision to be the ideal music program for your district? Here are a few more hints to take you through the process.

  • There is only one rule in this process: there should be no limitations on ideas (ideological, philosophical, staffing, financial, etc.).
  • Facilitate brainstorming sessions with music teachers (by area), the music coalition, and the administration.
  • Facilitate similar sessions with members of the administration and non-music teachers to determine their dreams, but also to learn what the issues may be that could prevent you from achieving your dreams.
  • Prioritize the list and develop your long-term plan.

Reprinted with permission, from Music Advocacy: Moving from Survival to Vision by John Benham. Copyright © 2016 GIA Publications, Inc.