On Wednesday, 388 districts and 120 individual schools were recognized for their efforts in making music education widely available to students.
Among the winning districts was the 85,000-student Austin, Texas, school system, which has a new stand-alone performing arts center with a 1,200-seat auditorium, a black box theater, and recording studio. The district holds mariachi festivals and young composers concerts, and has a fine arts academy that high school students from across the district can apply for. (Below is a video produced by some of the students who are products of this music education program.)
The NAMM Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group for music and music education, has been awarding its Best Communities for Music Education designation for 16 years running. About five years ago, the group, which is the philanthropic arm of the National Association of Music Merchants, teamed up with the University of Kansas to refine its application process; now researchers and music education faculty members from the university analyze and score the applicants’ responses.
Mary Luehrsen, the executive director of the Carlsbad, Calif.-based NAMM Foundation, said in an interview that the awards are about finding communities that provide opportunities for students in music. “We grade pretty strongly on effort,” she said. “It was never presumed that we were evaluating the quality of student output.”
The applications for the community designation, which goes to school districts, and the SupportMusic Merit Award, a newer recognition that goes to individual schools, ask about many aspects of music programs, including:
- the percentage of students participating;
- how much time students spend in music classes and after-school music programs;
- music teachers’ qualifications;
- interdisciplinary work in music;
- performance opportunities;
- concert attendance;
- funding; and
- the use of technology within the music curriculum.
“We also find schools have used the survey as sort of an internal audit instrument,” to see how their music program is going, said Luehrsen. “We’re really happy about that.”
Districts and schools have to reapply every year for the designation (there is no fee to do so), and Luehrsen said there’s “pretty significant overlap [among awardees] every year.” There’s no monetary incentive, but many districts and schools use the designation to help lobby for more music funding and support.
The awardees for both the district and school designations are eligible to participate in another NAMM Foundation contest, in which students create a one-minute video explaining what makes music education great in their school. You can see last year’s entries here. The schools that create the best videos win a visit from the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus—basically, a high-tech mobile recording studio—where they get to write and record an original song and music video.
Here’s the song students from Hampton City schools in Virginia created on the bus last fall:
And a bilingual tune from students in Milwaukee, Wisc.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.