Urban Music Educators Discuss Mutual Triumphs and Challenges

When music educators and music supervisors from major U.S. metropolitan areas met in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, recently, it gave them an opportunity to renew their annual commitment to strong music programs in urban school districts. Michael A. Butera, executive director of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), presented the keynote address. Natalie Ozeas, chair of the Urban Music Leadership Conference (UMLC) said, “These teachers and administrators treasure the opportunity to see classes and performing ensembles that look like the ones they work with.  They love being able to share ideas and strategies with others who work in similar situations. They are eager to find new methods and new materials that are relevant to their students.” The conference included opening reception performances by a high school string quartet and a K–5 choir. In addition, attendees visited several schools, including Pittsburgh’s Dilworth Elementary School, where students open each school day with world drumming and rock band music. A hip-hop artist and a principal from Arsenal Middle School 6–8 in Pittsburgh shared their experiences in effective use of Hip-Hop in the classroom. Ozeas said, “It inspired creative writing, rhythmic performance, and teamwork.  It also encouraged a sense of community within the class.” The conference also included discussion sessions: • Writing and Implementing a New District-Wide Curriculum • What’s the Big Idea • The World in Which We Teach • A Roundtable discussion of Challenges, Innovations, Strategies, and Experiments in Urban Schools

Sweeping Changes

In addressing the group, Butera noted he was addressing a group of experienced music educators. He said, “There is a changed economic environment sweeping the globe – not just the recent “great recession,” but competing educational values or outcomes have taken center stage. Nowhere is that more true than in urban America.” “Some see the educational enterprise as only a jobs and career-readiness function that should not be cluttered with a broad, well-balanced approach of developing citizenship skills, but be a set of cultural standards that are rooted in maintaining the America they know and love.  Inquiry that may result in deep questioning of the current standards is not appreciated,” he said. Butera also said statistics reveal why it is important to keep strong music programs in city schools. He said while the 100 largest school districts are less than 1% of all school districts nationwide, they educate 22% of all public school students. “If music programs are removed or decline, one-fifth of all America’s students will be denied the positive values that music education brings to their life and community,” Butera said. “The world in which we teach offers vast political, social, economic, and technology changes,” he said, “We must learn to recognize, operate within, advocate to modify, accept or reject these changes, and bring into our daily work with students the best elements of this changing environment. We must work on policymakers to help – no make – them see the value of a sequential program of music education P-K through 12th grade and into their adult lives.” He said, “Urban music education is vital to each of our students and necessary for a rich, growing, and  economically and personally prosperous society.  Working organizationally and with our students on these issues brings value to our lives and our country.” Butera concluded, “For today’s students to succeed tomorrow, they need a comprehensive education that includes music taught by exemplary music educators just like you.” The 2012 conference will be October 25–27 in St. Louis, Missouri. Visit NAFME Events for a link to information on the St. Louis meeting. Resources for Urban and Rural Music Educators Glee Give A Note WinnersRoz Fehr, December 15, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (nafme.org)