Research and Music Advocacy: Using Numbers to Support Our Cause

by Stephanie K.

We, as music educators, are very likely all familiar with the A-word: Advocacy. This familiarity might be the result of music cuts in our districts or just a personal knowledge of issues facing music education. Regardless, all music educators need to know how to advocate for their music programs, even when times are good. If we advocate for our music programs even when we do not necessarily have to, we are planting seeds of awareness that will be ready for harvest when and if they are needed. I feel both lucky and blessed to be a music educator whose job is not in jeopardy of being cut. I also feel privileged to say that music is (for the most part) valued in the community where I teach. Thus, I do not have to advocate for my music program on a daily basis, but I still can and I still do. Unfortunately, some music educators do have to advocate for their music programs on a daily basis. Well, here is something that might help.

On Saturday, November 5th, 2011, I sat in on a professional development workshop presented by Dr. Jennifer Mishra, Coordinator of Music Education, at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. She titled her workshop “Using Research to Advocate for Music Programs.” I found the presentation extremely interesting and useful, and I believe the information Dr. Mishra shared can benefit other music educators, as well. Her presentation basically all came down to the one idea that music educators need to use research when advocating for their music programs. Just saying that music belongs in schools and education is not enough. We need to be able to support that idea with facts and numbers. According to Dr. Mishra, we need to support our advocacy efforts with “research bites.” Well, what are research bites?

According to Dr. Mishra, a research bite is “a brief fact or finding from research presented in language easily understood by musicians, teachers, parents and administrators” (2011). They are meant “to be used when advocating for music programs” (Mishra, 2011). People who do not have our same [music] background need facts. They need to be convinced of the importance of music in education. When we advocate for the cause of music education in schools, “we need to be talking in a way that people understand in our society…Our society, whether we like it or not, is a very research and numbers-based society” (Mishra, 2011). Therefore, we find and use numbers that will help convince our audience of our cause. “We convince people of things in our society because we toss a number at them,” so, “we need to use those numbers in our favor. Numbers are persuasive” (Mishra, 2011).

The issue is rarely whether or not music educators are passionate about what they do. We are passionate about music. We believe music is important. We believe music belongs in schools. But, that is not enough. We have to support these “beliefs” with numbers and facts. As Dr. Mishra said, “to the passion, add the facts. We’ve got the passion…that’s no problem. But, we need to add some facts to be persuasive” (2011). Numbers can be fact. Numbers can be opinions. Either way, numbers can be convincing. “Numbers have power. It’s all about interpretation. Numbers can be interpreted in different ways. We give those numbers the power, and that means we can actually take it and turn it to our own advantage” (Mishra, 2011). Research bites give you a number and give you an argument in one or two sentences. We just have to find the research bite that fits our situation and speaks best to our audience. So, how do we make a convincing argument?

“Most of the time, when we are doing research, we want to be unbiased. But, for advocacy, we are looking for baised findings…findings that will work in our favor, that support our argument” (Mishra, 2011). We need to focus on research that supports music education, and there is plenty of it out there. However, we want and need to make sure that we have appropriate sources. Choose an argument and find the research to support it. Our argument and research is strong when cited with reputable scientists, researchers, and journals. “Respected sources convince.” (Mishra, 2011). We still make the decision of what to include or not include, but it is our responsibility to choose the research and the argument that speaks to our audience. We need to make the numbers real to our audience. “Make the numbers personal by replicating research findings with your own students. Put a face on the numbers” (Mishra, 2011). If you cannot find exactly what you are looking for in your research, do your own research with your own students. It will be even more real to your community.

“We obviously have to keep music in the minds of our administrators, our parents, our community because, especially in this kind of climate [financial climate], we sometimes have our programs riffed. Even in good times, we have our programs riffed” (Mishra, 2011). There is plenty of research out there. We just have to find it. And, actually, it is pretty easy to find research indicating that music supports other disciplines, but “don’t forget AFAS: Art For Art’s Sake” (Mishra, 2011). Music is fundamentally valuable. Sometimes it is enough just to remember that. Sometimes our argument needs more. When your argument needs more, use a research bite. I know that, personally, I am going to start including research bites in my newsletters, notes to parents, e-mails, and concert programs. You never know when you are going to need them, but you want your seeds of advocacy to be ready for harvest when they are needed. So, where can you find research bites that fit your cause and help you support your cause? Well, the below sites are great places to start.

Advocacy Resources: Collections of Research Bites

Mishra, J. (2011, November 5). Using Research to Advocate for Music Programs. IMEA District 6 Festival. Conducted from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. amyfatek
    Nov 22, 2011 @ 15:39:32

    I am aware that my parents need to know that music is making a difference in the lives of my students. This means making connections to other disciples, giving students an outlet for their creativity, and to help them grow in appreciation of this art form. Anyone who says that music programs being cut across the United States is not “personal”, but in fact a necessity for funding, doesn’t understand just how personal it is; not only for the teachers who lose their jobs, but most importantly for students who lose the opportunity to make connections through music. It is EXTREMELY personal for them. I think you have presented a great resource in finding “research bites” that fit our purposes.

    I think you hit the nail on the head with the quotation, “Our society, whether we like it or not, is a very research and numbers-based society” (Mishra, 2011). By advocating for music, we must set aside our feelings, and let the numbers and research speak for themselves.

    Thanks for providing a great place to start when considering the importance of advocacy!
    Written by, Amy Fatek

    Reply

  2. Patti B.
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 04:09:23

    Yes! Numbers talk in our society. That is an excellent point. Presenting numbers/statistics that are understandable and that involve our own students are also excellent points. Thank you for the resources provided. I will take a look at them and find good research. My music program is also not in jeopardy. In fact, at my musical last week, I thanked my principal and administration for seeing the value of music education, and I got a huge round of applause from the parents. It was great to hear them agree with me. Even though, things are going well for our program, I do need to have my “seeds of advocacy to be ready for harvest when they are needed.”

    Reply

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