Ep. 147 Transcript

Disclaimer: This is transcribed using AI. Expect (funny) errors.

Mindy Peterson: [00:00:00] I’m Mindy Peterson and this is Enhance Life with Music, a holistic look at the power of music in our everyday lives. My guest today is kind of the godfather of music advocacy, the Renaissance man of music advocacy. His advocacy work has earned him a primetime Emmy, a Peabody Award, the New Jersey Governor’s Award for Arts Education, and an honorary doctorate degree from the State University of New York. He’s also been the chairman at Make Music Inc, the makers of Finale and Smart Music, the founder of Music for All Foundation, founding CEO of Save the Music Foundation. He helped create Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation and served as director of market development for NAM. More recently, my guest has held concurrent roles as founder and CEO of Quadrant Research, the nation’s leading arts education research organization and founder and executive director of the policy group Arts at New Jersey. He’s also launched the Center for Arts Education and Social Emotional Learning. And the list goes on. If you’ve spent any time in the music advocacy world, you’ve probably guessed that. My guest today is Bob Morrison, who is widely recognized as one of the nation’s leading researchers and advocates for arts education. Welcome to enhance life with music, Bob.

Bob Morrison: [00:01:28] Thanks, Mindy. It’s great to be with you.

Mindy Peterson: [00:01:30] Well, Bob, you really have done it all when it comes to music and arts education and advocacy. So I’m really looking forward to hearing your perspective today on where we are, what the current climate is when it comes to arts education in the US. For those of us who haven’t been immersed in the arts education world the way you have. Can you give us a little historic perspective and context to better understand where we’ve been and where we are now when it comes to arts education, especially music education in our schools?

Bob Morrison: [00:02:05] Sure. Well, I think one of the things that’s important to understand regarding advocacy for music, education and arts education is the fact that this is not something new. This is not something that has has just come around in the last decade or even in the last 30 years. I mean, advocacy.

Mindy Peterson: [00:02:24] Advocacy effort or.

Bob Morrison: [00:02:26] Meaning the meaning, meaning the advocacy efforts. So advocacy for music and arts education has existed as long as there has been music and arts education. If you go back, you look back to the 1940s. Before the war, the American Music Conference was actually created as an entity to promote music making and music education to the American public. And then when the war came on, a lot of the music industry was shut down because they were converted to making things for the war effort. So as people came back from the war, then there were issues in the fifties with the Russians, and the launch of Sputnik sent everyone scurrying and, oh my God, we’re we’re losing the space race. So we’ve got to focus on math and science. So there was this undercurrent of a concern that the arts were going to be left behind. And so people had to then rally and support music and arts education in their schools. There was the downturn in the 19 early 1970s, the impact in the economy where there in Chicago they threatened in 70 1973 to eliminate all of their music programs. And Benny Goodman actually came out in support of keeping the music programs in place. And the marching band at one of the major parades was marching down the street, holding their instruments in their cases to showcase what the parade would look look like if you didn’t have the marching bands. Yeah. And so and you go through the 1980s and the report that came out and education at risk or a Nation at Risk focused on the need for a back to basics movement.

Bob Morrison: [00:04:23] And then in the 19 late 1980s, the Bush administration, the first Bush administration, came out with their America 2000 education reform plan. And that plan called for students developing proficiency in core subjects English, math, science, history, geography. So they excluded the arts in their plan. And as a result, that led to what is today’s modern music and arts education advocacy efforts, because it was in the late eighties, early nineties that NAM and what was then me and. C, which is now the National Association for Music Education. The Recording Academy came together to push back against the slight of the arts not being included in the national goals. And through that effort and I was at NAM at the time, we were able to push back and ultimately when the Clinton administration came into being, we were able to get the arts included as a core subject. And so it is cyclical where there’s been a need for arts education. And even following that, we then had No Child Left Behind, which I referred to as No Child Left in band. Oftentimes student denied the ability to participate in those programs because they had to go out for remediation. So there’s always been something, and certainly we’ve just been through a major advocacy effort with the threats to music and arts education program that were a result of the pandemic, where we had people shutting down programs. You know, it’s no longer safe to play. So they say at the time and we had our music and arts teachers, many of which were being repurposed to support other teachers in other content areas.

Bob Morrison: [00:06:15] So there was a huge effort to try to demystify the pandemic. And that’s where the National Federation of State High School Associations did such a great job with their aerosol coalition to identify how to how we can have our programs in a safe way for our students. And now, as we come out of the pandemic, there’s renewed interest in arts education and the focus on social emotional learning and the intersection of those areas. So I kind of took you on this long and winding journey because there’s this myth that at some point in time will be done and we’re not going to be done because every time you educate a new group of school board members or a new superintendent or a new group of parents, you know, those parents kind of move on with their students when they leave the school system. Right. And now you have a new group that you have to educate. So advocacy is not just about, oh, my God, please don’t cut our programs. That kind of advocacy, but advocacy is also about being proactive in building on programs and not waiting for there to be a crisis, to be an advocate. The best advocates are are the proactive advocates. And and so my point in all of this is we will always have to advocate for our programs, whether we like it or not. We can complain about it, we can moan about it, but we cannot ignore the fact that we will always have to advocate for our programs in order to be successful.

Mindy Peterson: [00:07:53] Well, that was a really interesting and concise snapshot of just the history of what’s gone on with music and arts education in our schools over the last how many decades. So thank you for that. That was really fun to listen to. So, you know, if you had to give just sort of like a medical checkup diagnosis of kind of our current climate of where we are in arts education, how would you describe it?

Bob Morrison: [00:08:22] You know, I think that we’re I think we’re rebounding nicely from the pandemic. I think obviously in some of the initial numbers that we were seeing based on student enrollment during the 2020, 2021 school year. So that school year ending in June 21, that was really the concern year because that’s where a lot of the schools were shut down or programs were reduced or done remotely. And we did see an impact. We saw a downturn in participation rates and particularly our instrumental ensembles and our vocal ensembles. But we’re we saw then in the 2022 school year data, the limited amount of data that we’ve got visibility into, we saw that those numbers have rebounded. They may not be all the way back to pre-pandemic numbers, but they are significantly closer to being at pre-pandemic numbers. So, you know, right now I’m really optimistic about where we’re going with our programs, where the opportunities are. You know, the the pandemic really forced a a change in music education that normally would have taken at least a generation another 12 or 15 years. And what I mean by that is the the forced implementation of technology. You had a lot of people that were not savvy with technology, never used technology, particularly some of our more seasoned educators, who all of a sudden they were forced to overnight. Learn how to use technology and the use of technology as a tool coming out of the pandemic. Our educators are like, Wow, I wouldn’t really want to do that again, you know, based on what they went through with the pandemic.

Bob Morrison: [00:10:13] However, here are some really cool things that we learned. And I think that the pandemic not only is it related to technology, but in a variety of ways. The pandemic allowed for a reflection on the approach to music education, the reflection on how we are engaging with students, and what are the lessons that we can carry with us that we learned from the pandemic that will make our programs better, stronger, more engaging, more relevant and more meaningful to our students? So I’m very optimistic about coming out of the pandemic, even as we’re seeing right now. If you look at the state of California, they’re about to vote on Proposition 28, which is going to invest more than $1,000,000,000 into music and arts education annually with a large chunk of that targeted at hiring new certified teachers across the state. We’ve not seen anything like that in in this country. That kind of investment, it does raise the question, golly, gee whiz, where are they going to find all the teachers? But I think that it will be a good problem to have where we’re actually investing significantly into music and arts education. And the public support that’s coming out for that particular proposition is incredible. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being passing with the widest margin of any proposition in California history.

Mindy Peterson: [00:11:47] Well, I am really interested in what you’re doing currently. Your your current advocacy work really is focused a lot on research and data reporting in light of the many, many ways you’ve advocated for music and arts education throughout your career. Can you explain to us what brought you to your current destination and what you’re devoting most of your energy to right now and why?

Bob Morrison: [00:12:10] Sure. Well, right now my main focus is on data. You know, data regarding access and participation in arts education at a very granular level, looking at it at the school building level, at the grade level, and being able to then aggregate that information to get a view of what is arts education look like across the state and then aggregating it up further to go. What does arts education look like across the nation? And I came at this from a from a very strange way early in my career. I was actually a senior executive at Perl Corporation, which is a drum manufacturer, and this is in the 1980s, and they were just getting involved in the education market. And so we were looking to expand our product line into the market. And I was charged with doing the research and our president asked to me to be able to figure out how many schools have instrumental music programs, meaning we wanted to define what the size of the market was so we could figure out, okay, how how much business can we do going into that market? And at the time, nobody could tell me the answer to that question. None of the national associations, not the National Education Association, not the US Department of Education, not the trade associations, not the Music Educators Association. Nobody had a clue how many schools had instrumental music programs. They didn’t know how many music teachers we had. They didn’t have any idea how many kids were involved. And I found that to be rather odd because as a business person I live by metrics.

Bob Morrison: [00:13:47] Profit loss market share lets me know the health of my business, and the fact that we lacked those metrics for arts education and music education was really troubling to me. So when I was involved later on in my career as the CEO of Save the Music, when we first created Save the Music, I started requiring districts to give us a full accounting of their music programs across the entire district before we would even consider going in and making any investments because we wanted to know what kind of systems were in place to support music programs. How would our donations and investment lead to greater equity and participation in those programs? So it really started when I was at Save the Music, where we included that in our grant applications. But when I left Save the Music and created music for all, one of the first things I wanted was I said, We need better data. And I did a report based on data from the state of California that we released in 2004 called The Sound of Silence the unprecedented Decline of Music Education in California Public Schools. And we had. Identified between 1999 and 2004, but there was a 50% decline in student enrollment in elementary music. As soon as we saw that number. We didn’t even go any further to figure out why we wanted to get the information out, because if that had continued for another decade, there would be no music programs left in California. So we raised that as a big warning flag.

Bob Morrison: [00:15:27] And in doing so, over the next two years, that report became one of the catalysts for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to invest more than $1,000,000,000 into restoring programs in the state of California. And so that was a really important lesson to me, that with a little bit of energy invested in doing some research, that data could be a powerful tool to drive transformation. And then following that, we did a project in the state of New Jersey where we documented exactly what was happening in all of the 2300 schools in the state of New Jersey. And we released that report. And that created quite a stir across the state. And over time, as they continued with their data reporting that showed an increase in participation across the state from 65% to 81% because there was reporting now. And as a result, that means that more than a quarter million students every year get arts instruction that 15 years ago were not receiving that instruction. So the data component in the advocacy efforts really became very clear to me. And as a result, I started focusing all my energy and time on trying to build out a system that would allow us to gather and report data on an annual basis for as many states as possible across the country. And that led us to the creation of the National Arts Education Data Project, which we launched with our first state in 2016. And now we’re in 31 states representing about 30, about 65% of the student population.

Mindy Peterson: [00:17:17] Ha. It’s interesting. When I talk to people, it seems like the whole question of why music, Why is it important? People tend to fall on somewhere on a spectrum or I see at one end being experiential. That’s kind of their answer is this is what music does for me. This is why it’s so powerful. This is why I’m a big proponent of it. This is why I want to advocate for music. So in one end you have the more subjective experiential answers, and on the other end of the spectrum, you have the real data driven answer where it’s like, show me the metrics, show me the the data that supports this, and people can be anywhere on that spectrum. But as I think about it, the people who tend to be closer to that experiential end of the spectrum tend to be probably musicians who don’t need to be convinced. And you’re kind of preaching to the choir when you’re talking to them. So the research and data that you’re investing in right now seems like you probably get the most bang for your buck in terms of convincing the people at the other end of the spectrum who do want to see those hard numbers and that hard information.

Bob Morrison: [00:18:31] Yeah, to to a certain degree, I think you’re right about the two camps. Right there are those that support music and arts education because of its intrinsic value, right? Yeah. That, that the art form has the experiential aspect as you described it, versus those that I would say are focused on the extrinsic value, which is, you know, well, how does it help with student absenteeism rates and and test scores and other types of non artistic elements? And what’s interesting in our work is our data is not focused on the extrinsic part of it. Our our data is actually focused on understanding who has access, who’s participating, what are they participating in, what are their opportunities? Are those opportunities equitable across all race and ethnic backgrounds? Is it equitable across all socioeconomic backgrounds, that kind of information? So we’re actually making the case from the standpoint of here’s who has access, who’s here’s who’s participating. And since we now know that the vast majority of students have access to music and arts education and the majority of students are actually participating in those programs, that what we really need to be talking about is why is it that there is this group of students, in particular school configuration that don’t have those same opportunity? And it’s a different way of advocating versus the people that are begging for their programs not to be cut.

Bob Morrison: [00:20:08] And you have administrators saying, well, we have to cut it. We’ve got a budget issue. And besides, everyone else is doing it. Well, up until now, no one had the proof that everyone else was not doing it because of the fact that 91 or actually 96% of our students have access to arts education, 65% of our students are actually participating in our programs are not disappearing or programs are not in crisis. Our programs are not barely in existence. Music and arts education in the United States is robust and strong. That said, there are still nearly 4 million students attending schools that do not have access to music programs, and they tend to be in city schools. They tend to be in majority minority schools, they tend to be in charter schools. So now we can actually focus our advocacy efforts on what the issue is, right? It’s not that all of our programs are disappearing because they’re not all disappearing, but there is a contingency of students that don’t have these opportunities and that’s how we need to be focusing our efforts. What about those 4 million students? Who stands up for them?

Mindy Peterson: [00:21:24] Sure. And this is probably beyond the scope of our conversation today. But I believe that your research is also taking a look at participation rates for schools that do offer music education or arts education. What’s the participation rate and how can we increase that if students aren’t participating, Why aren’t they things like that? We’ve been talking a lot today, throwing the term around music advocacy. When you hear that term music advocacy, what does that mean to you and who in your mind is responsible for advocating for music?

Bob Morrison: [00:22:01] Well, the people that are responsible are everybody, all of us. And so every single one of us in in and outside of music education have a role to play in advocating for our. Programs. But when I hear the term music advocacy and when I talk to folks about it advocating for music, education, arts, education, or anything that you advocate for, it’s not something that you do. It’s something that you are right. It’s not. It’s not where I’m doing all this other stuff. I’m going to stop that stuff now. I’m going to advocate for music, and then I’m going to go back to doing all the other stuff. You know, if you’re doing it right, you are subtly and consistently advocating almost to the point that people don’t even know that you’re advocating, even though that you are. And that’s why I say it’s something that you do because or it’s something that you are. It’s not something that you do because every interaction that you have with a parent or a colleague or a principal or a superintendent or a school board member is an advocacy moment. It’s a teachable moment and it can be subtle. Hey, did you know that our students just scored ones at the All Region festival last weekend and we had three brass players that made it to the Region Ensemble Festival? You know, little things, just subtly sharing information about the program or, hey, did you know this? One of our students just got a full scholarship to study the arts at this particular school.

Bob Morrison: [00:23:40] All of these little success stories that you share have a cumulative effect when you’re when you’re talking to people, and particularly if your parents and you’re working with school board members. What you don’t want to have happen is that your first interaction with a school board member is to come in because you’re you’re asking for something. Sure. And I can say this because I am a sitting school board member. I’ve been a school board member for nine years, actually up for re election again, with this this coming election cycle. And it’s one of the things that I always tell people in working with school boards, your first interaction with a school board member should not be because you’re asking for something. You need to build that relationship up. You need to be present at the board meetings. You need to be supportive of the board of what they’re trying to do so that when an issue comes up, you, you, you have an established relationship already that you can then use to say, hey, you know, I heard there may be some potential cuts being proposed in the budget. What can you tell me about it or what can we do to help you reconsider that? Or it creates a different dynamic than just waiting until, Oh my God, I heard they’re cutting something.

Bob Morrison: [00:24:54] So I’m going to go ahead to the to the school board meeting. So when I talk about it, in terms of it being something that you are particularly as as music advocates, music educators, you know, just thinking about in terms of how you can subtly communicate the impact of the program on students, particularly on students that may have special needs, that may struggle in other parts of the school building. But when they’re in the music room, they are able to thrive. They’re able to shine because it’s something that they enjoy. It gives them some sense of relief. And I hear those stories all the time about students who are difficult in other parts of the community when they’re in their arts programs, have found their their safe space. So sharing all these little success stories helps reinforce the value in the importance of the program instead of waiting, and then all of a sudden having everyone come out of the woodwork all at once going, Hey, save our program. You know, you should be focusing on being proactive and building the program and developing those relationships all the time, which is why I said music advocacy is not something that you do, something that you are.

Mindy Peterson: [00:26:07] Is there anything that comes to your mind quickly about in terms of being the most encouraging thing right now that you see going on in the field of arts education or a challenge that comes to mind real quickly as the most important challenge right now within that field or both. If an example of both come to mind, let us know.

Bob Morrison: [00:26:30] Yeah, I think actually there’s there’s some of both. I think, you know, what gives me hope is the creativity and the innovation of the field. As we talked about earlier, COVID really challenged us, but it didn’t kill us and it we are stronger as a result of going through COVID. We talked about the generational shift that technology went through. As a result of that, the new approaches to teaching that have emerged, the diversification of styles and approaches, the incorporation of social emotional learning, the fact that in spite of all of that, we still have a significant number of students involved when we talk about 65% of student population. Being involved in arts education. We’re talking about 33 million students that are arts educators are touching every day with their gifts. So these are the things that are very, very encouraging to me. The challenges that I see for the field that we certainly have to be mindful of there there is a teacher shortage, a national teacher shortage across the board. And those of us in the field of music and arts education, we are not we’re not immune to those same symptoms. We’ve seen declines in students going into music education as a career pathway over the past ten years, the number of graduates coming out has declined. We’re seeing more teachers leaving the field as a result of some of the burnout from the pandemic. So the teacher shortage is certainly something that we’re concerned about. I know a lot of the national organizations are certainly focused on that. But the other thing is we have to change the narrative. We have to stop talking about music education in negative terms, because when people are going, oh, we’re losing our programs or the disappearing or they’re barely in existence, you know, when you hear that, parents hear that.

Bob Morrison: [00:28:35] And so when their son or daughter comes forward and says, I want to I want to major in music, the parents automatically go, I’m not going to pay for you to go to college to major in a career that’s disappearing. So we’re created. We’ve created this narrative out there about our programs, which is untrue and B is undermining our ability to recruit new teachers. The fact of the matter is, in some polling that I did in conversations with deans of a lot of our major schools of music across the country, I asked them, What’s the percentage of your placement rate of students that are music education majors that want to go into teaching and to a school? They all reply 100%. So if you would go to a parent and say, I can guarantee you that if your son or daughter goes into music education as a career pathway, that when they get their degree they’re going to have a job at the other end. A parent would be ecstatic to know that that’s not the narrative that’s out there because everyone’s been out there going, Woe is me, our programs, this, our programs that, and it’s complete nonsense. Music education in the United States is strong. It’s vibrant. We have lots of teaching opportunities. It’s a great career pathway for somebody, and that’s what we need to be talking about. We need to be talking about the positives of music and arts education and get away from these negative narratives, because that’s actually what’s the greatest threat to undermining our programs. And we’re actually seeing it right now because of the teacher shortage.

Mindy Peterson: [00:30:04] Hmm. Great to hear that. We will for sure include lots of links in the show notes, of course, of ways that listeners can connect with you and your work. Are there any resources that you want to recommend or action steps you want to recommend to listeners who might want to dig in some more to this topic and maybe want to get involved somehow in helping to move the needle and support of arts education?

Bob Morrison: [00:30:30] Sure. Well, certainly there’s there’s lots of great resources out there than AM. Foundation has a lot of materials to support local advocacy efforts. Certainly NAMI has materials on their site, as does the National Federation of State High School Associations. But what I would actually suggest is get involved in your local community, find out what’s happening in your own school district, see what you can do to support the programs there to increase learning opportunities for students. I would even encourage you to run for school board, run for elected office. The ability to have a seat at the table to shape things is is very, very important in the education world. So for those that have the time to do it, I would highly encourage them run for office. I would highly encourage them to run for school board so that they can support programs that way. And then certainly the information that we have regarding the status and condition of arts education programs. You just released a national report that’s on our website at Arts and Data dot org. And additionally, you can explore arts education data for the various states that are participating in the project. So that’s all available at the Arts Data dot org URL.

Mindy Peterson: [00:31:48] Great ideas. Thank you. Well, Bob, this has been so fascinating and enlightening. I appreciate all this information that you’ve given to us. I ask all my guests to close out our conversation with a musical ending a coda by sharing a song or a story about a moment that music enhanced your life. Is there a song or a story that you can share with us today in closing?

Bob Morrison: [00:32:13] Sure. Well, I think the the story that I’ll share is the the reason for why I do what I do. And when. I was certainly a student, particularly in junior high school and high school growing up, I was struggling, trying to find my way. And it was a music teacher that helped me find my direction. You know, that he saw something in me that others didn’t, and that always stuck with me so that when I went to college and was teaching in different organizations, that was my way of trying to give back to pay back what was given to me. Someone invested in me, someone provided me with the opportunity and because of how I benefited from it, the way that music saved me, I wanted to make sure that I could give that back to others in the same way. And then I found over the years that first it went from teaching people directly to then getting involved in more advocacy and policy work. And so my goal has always been to make sure more, more students have the same opportunities that I have done. But my way of approaching it has changed from direct instruction to then more advocacy, then more on the public policy side and now on the data and research side, using this as a vehicle to ensure that that more students have those same opportunities. That is always been my driving passion in this. And it all goes back to the fact that somebody saw something in me and took me under their wings and made sure that I was on the right pathway in this great career path that we have in music community. And it’s really important to me that knowing how it impacted me so, so strongly that I know how meaningful it is for all of our students. And that’s why I constantly talk about and fight for music education for every child across this country.

Transcribed by Sonix.ai