The Best Answer to Giving the Middle Class a Leg Up

Education is the hot-button policy issue of the moment: Parents want a high-quality education for their children, so the next generation can have more opportunities than they had. Everyone wants a solid future for their kids.

But how to get there?

That’s the debate du jour in the Senate at present. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) Committee held the first of many hearings on Chairman Lamar Alexander’s (TN) recommendations for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization (ESEA) on January 21. This first hearing focused on testing—or rather, over-testing—and evaluation. Invited panelists had much to say about how much testing should take place in the classroom, who should administer assessments (states, federal government, or both), what they should be tested on, and what judgments could reasonably be made of the results.

Naturally, music education advocates believe music teachers should be evaluated based on how they teach . . . music. Imagine that. Too often, left in some states’ hands, music teachers have been evaluated based on how their students perform in other subjects. Unfortunately, Chairman Alexander’s proposal gives states too much leeway on assessment.

But as Sen. Patty Murray (WA) noted, “Fixing No Child Left Behind [or ESEA] shouldn’t be a partisan issue. This is an issue about our kids.”

During that same hearing, Sen. Al Franken (MN) talked about meeting with business leaders in his state. “Employers want people with critical thinking,” Franken said, “who can work in teams.”

As any music teacher or music education supporter knows, music students possess those precise skills.

In his his sixth State of the Union address, President Obama touched on the critical need to teach our students 21st century skills. “[Today] there are . . . millions of Americans who work in jobs that didn’t even exist ten or twenty years ago—jobs at companies like Google, and eBay, and Tesla,” he said. “So no one knows for certain which industries will generate the jobs of the future.” And that is precisely why we cannot teach students a certain set of facts alone—but more so, teach them how to use the facts they have, how to think creatively and work collaboratively.

Music education answers those needs.

One of President Obama’s primary themes was his focus on “middle class economics.” He discussed issues such as raising the minimum wage, increasing access to community colleges, student loan relief, investments in new technologies, extended child care tax credits, and expanded access to healthcare and health insurance as tools for strengthening the middle class.

The draft ESEA bill presented last week by Senator Alexander sharply curtails the federal role and investment in education. We believe strongly that without increased federal support, music education and other non-tested subjects will continue to take a backseat to other disciplines. We encourage music education supporters to read the Music Education Policy Roundtable’s suggested improvements to this proposal in the areas of core subject status, accessibility, teacher evaluation, accountability, and teacher preparation. (Further detail can be found by accessing the Roundtable’s Winter 2015 ESEA Reauthorization Legislative Requests.)

We ask that all music education supporters submit comments to Chairman Alexander’s HELP staff, sharing the Roundtable’s legislative agenda, and asking for improved provisions for music in these key areas, between now and February 2nd. Join the broader minded campaign to urge Congress to ensure support for music education in the the ESEA reauthorization.

state of the union
Photodisc | Thinkstock

The President concluded his State of the Union remarks by calling for “a better politics” that seeks to find common ground on controversial but vital policy issues.  To use the words of his address, surely we can agree that education is the best investment we can make in our nation’s future, and that consensus can be reached that maximizes access to high-quality education for all students. To that end, we call for a new ESEA that invests in teachers, allows for fair and relevant evaluation and assessment, and supports rich curricula including music and the arts as core.

A key statement stood out in the President’s address on January 20: “Tonight, we turn the page.” It is time to “turn the page” as well in education policy.


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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

Catherina Hurlburt, Communications Manager, and Shannon Kelly, Director of Advocacy, January 21, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (