FOCUS ON ADVOCACY: A Back-to-School Primer on Your Local Music Coalition

September 1, 2011

Since this primer first appeared in CounterPoint in 2005, author and renowned music education advocate, Dr. John Benham, has compiled his writings into a highly recommended book, Music Advocacy: Moving From Survival to Vision.
Now, just in time for the start of another new school year, Dr. Benham offers a few words of advice and inspiration:
Now, more than ever, it’s important to have an active local music coalition to help keep your school music programs strong for all students.
It continues to be true:
Those districts that are most successful in preserving their music programs are those that have active Music Coalitions.
All children deserve access to a well-rounded education that includes a standards-based music curriculum taught by highly qualified, certified teachers. It’s never too late to form a local music coalition and get involved.
Why does your district need a local Music Coalition?
Because it is the most effective way to ensure that your school district provides equal educational opportunities for all students to participate in the making of music! An effective local music coalition holds a school district accountable for student-centered decision making.
• A local coalition places the student back to the center of the decision-making process.
• A local coalition identifies the music program as an integral part of the community.
• A local coalition unifies the music program as a unified district-wide curriculum.
• A local coalition promotes music education, not just band, choir, orchestra, or general music.
• A local coalition is a community organization that incorporates all of its constituents in the support of music making.
• A local coalition provides for bringing music into all of life.
• A local coalition puts the "public" in Public Education!
Internal or Independent? Which Coalition Type is Best For Your District?
Your music coalition may be organized as a support group within the educational system (Type 1), or operate outside the district as an independent entity for the support of music within the schools (Type 2).
Districts that select the independent option often take legal steps to become recognized as a non-profit corporation. It must be structured in such a way as to provide for representation from every level of education from each school in the district, and from the community at large. Each structure has issues that determine which form may be most successful in a specific district.
Local Music Coalition Issues
Type 1: Contained Within the District
Type 2: Independent of the School District
Appears to be a collaborative body within the district, potentially facilitating more cooperation within the system
May be perceived as an adversarial body, leading to potential power struggles within the community
May facilitate increased cooperation from administration; for example, building usage, distribution of materials, membership drives
May make it more difficult to acquire administrative cooperation
Often limits membership to parents with children currently in the program
Often limits membership to parents with children currently in the program
Tends to be oriented toward specific music performing organizations (band, orchestra, chorus)
More apt to have broad focus on music education rather than specific curricular segments
Tends to become focused on the high school
Tends to be more broad based, including representation of all levels of education
Greater turnover in leadership may lead to teacher dependency for motivation
Community ownership provides for wider leadership base and long term participation
Oriented toward fund-raising; less on curricular and philosophical issues
Broader focus on all aspects of music, including philosophical and curricular issues
May lead to competition between different areas of the music program
More tendency to provide for balance between curricular areas
Committees Will Make Your Music Coalition More Effective
The local music coalition should have a central EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE that provides for a balanced representation of all components of the music curriculum: band, choir, orchestra, and general music (P-12).
In addition to any other basic organizational or management structures you wish to establish, I recommend that you have at least the following four committees:
COMMUNICATIONS: Serving as a Public Relations vehicle with the public, this committee functions as the primary means of dispersing any information related to the music program. It includes the following responsibilities:
1. Recruits and activates membership
*Provides opportunities for membership enrollment at all music functions in the district
*Develops and maintains mailing lists
*Develops and maintains email and/or telephone contact system, particularly for emergency meetings
*Provides a visible presence at all music activities within the district
2. Distributes information as a Public Relations entity
            *Develops, publishes and distributes a District Music Newsletter
*Develops and maintains a Community Music Website
ADMINISTRATIVE LIAISON: This committee serves as a representative body for the exchange of information with members of the administration and school board in matters related to district policy as it affects the music program. It includes the following responsibilities:
1. Represents the community as the primary advocacy body in support of music for all children in the district
2. Serves as a vehicle for communication between the Music Faculty, Administration, School Board, and community in matters related to policy
3. Assists the music department in developing and presenting proposals related to music policy
4. Acquires knowledge of administrative proposals or issues within the district that may affect the music program
5. Provides representation at every school board meeting with at least one member of the committee
6. Recruits, trains, supports and elects members to the school board and legislative bodies that support music education for all children by actions that lead to specific and positive outcomes for students
7. Holds public officials accountable for their decisions related to music education
1. Represents the community in matters related to the maintenance of relevant statistical data on the music program, such as Faculty Issues, Student Participation, Economic Status
2. Works with the Music Department, Administration and School Board to develop adequate budgets for aspects of the music program that are Curricular and Co-curricular
3. Works with the Music Department, Administration and School Board to establish policies that restrict fundraising to those aspects of the music program that are Extra-curricular or unique occasional events that may not be funded as regular line items in the Curricular or Co-curricular budgets, such as invitational performances at regional, national or international events
4. Works with the Music Department, Administration and School Board to establish policies that prohibit the implementation of extra fees for participation in music
5. Manages all fundraising activities and revenues, and specifically related expenses
1. Works with the Music Department, Administration and School Board to establish policies that facilitate music participation for all children
2. Works with the Music Department, Administration and School Board to establish a sequential written curriculum for the P-12 music curriculum with goals for student achievement that are specific, achievable, and measurable and meet the minimum National Standards for Music Education as established by the Music Educators National Conference.
3. Works with the Music Department, Administration and School Board to establish a system of assessment that clearly delineates student achievement in music
4. Works with music teachers to develop a system of reporting student achievement to parents that clearly delineates student achievement in music
5. Works with the Music Department, Administration and School Board to establish policies related to the evaluation of music faculty that are based on student achievement as outlined in the district music curriculum
Your local music coalition should work with financial and legal specialists to secure assistance in matters related to compliance with IRS or other guidelines.
Finally, your coalition must be carefully structured in such a way that it does NOT become an organization for the micro-management of the curriculum, teachers, or any particular component within the curriculum.
Additional Resources
In addition to the numerous articles, by Dr. John Benham and other authors in the CounterPoint archives, here are a few more resources to assist you as you organize your local music coalition:
Community Action Toolkit - free downloads with resources in English and Spanish, including PSAs, current research, templates for media releases and letters, posters and much more! 
A Practical Guide for Recruitment and Retention and Tips For Success are comprehensive materials, tips and tools for music teachers, produced by The Music Achievement Council.
Music Educators National Conference (MENC) offers National Standards for Music Education, publications, events, and more.
Arts Education Partnership (AEP) offers publications, forums, research and an annual Arts Education State Policy Database.
Good luck!
Until next time,

Dr. John Benham