The long-awaited strategic plan for Nashville’s public schools – released by Metro Nashville Public Schools in April 2017 – includes a many-faceted plan for improving the future of our schools in the years to come. Nine months in the making, this robust 38-page document includes an opening letter from the Board of Education Chair and the Director of Schools; a District Overview; an Executive Summary; the Strategic Framework and Elements section itself as well as sections on Students, People, Organization, and Community; an extensive Glossary; and a closing Acknowledgements section.
However, Exceeding Great Expectations: MNPS Strategic Framework does not include any mention of the words “music education” nor does it include any mention of the school district’s nationally recognized music education initiative Music Makes Us.
Dr. Sean Joseph, Director of Schools at MNPS, “unveiled” the strategic plan at his State of Schools address on April 10, 2017. The video of his speech is still linked to Youtube from the MNPS website but the video itself is no longer available. The Strategic Framework, however, is published and available for download here.
Exceeding Great Expectations: MNPS Strategic Framework is a dense, 38-page document that describes the director of schools’ and school board chair’s intended vision and direction for MNPS schools in the years to come. It is riddled with technical jargon and fad education lingo, so much so that a 3-page glossary defining 55 terms is included at the end to help “lay readers” decode it.
The comprehensive tone of the document makes the absence of any mention of – let alone commitment to – music education even more conspicuous.
Music Makes Us is not a Point of Pride for MNPS
For instance, in the 10-bullet list titled “Points of Pride” in the Strategic Framework’s “District Overview” section which describes positive aspects of the current state of MNPS, neither music education nor Music Makes Us are mentioned, despite references to a number of the district’s other programs including:
- Metro Nashville Virtual School
- Academies of Nashville
- Dual Enrollment and Middle College High School
- Advanced Placement
- International Baccalaureate
The only reference to arts education at all in the “Points of Pride” list is the bullet “Strong emphasis on the arts across all grade levels.” which is so broad and vague as to be meaningless.
Equitable access to arts and music education is not a priority for MNPS
The statement “We will not rest until we eliminate achievement and opportunity gaps…and provide equitable access to quality educational programs for all students.” in the Executive Summary’s “Call To Action” apparently does not extend to arts and music education, which are not mentioned anywhere in the Executive Summary.
Does this imply that MNPS does not consider arts and music education a vital component of quality education? Access to music education in MNPS is not equitable – for instance, many middle schools and high schools do not have choral or strings programs, and as of 2015 (the last year for which data is publicly available), 74% of MNPS high school students were not enrolled in any music class.
In fact, the word arts occurs only five times in Exceeding Great Expectations. The other four occurrences include:
- In the Strategic Framework & Elements section under “Core Values” (a list of nine values important to MNPS), the description for the value Innovation states “We believe teaching and learning is enhanced through creative thinking across all subject areas, including STEM, literacy, and the creative arts.”.
In the Strategic Framework & Elements section under “Successful Student Characteristics”, which is divided into five “junctures” (there is a misprint – six are actually listed, one of which is printed twice), the word arts appears twice:
- In the “After Completing Grades 3 – 4, Each Student Will” juncture, one of the bullets reads: “Demonstrate basic skills in music, visual arts, and physical education.”.
- In the After Completing Grades 5 – 8, Each Student Will” juncture, one of the bullets reads: “Be adademically prepared for the transition to high school by the end of 8th grade: read and write at or above grade level, and demonstrate proficiency in math, social studies, science, and the arts.”.
Neither music nor arts expectations are included in the other three junctures describing:
- After Completing Pre-K, Each Student Will:
- After Completing Kindergarten – 2nd Grade, each Student Will:
- After Completing Grades 9 – 12, each Student Will:
Neither music nor arts education are even mentioned in “Great School Characteristics”, the section of the Strategic Framework which precedes the “Successful Student Characteristics” section.
Music Literacy is not a priority for MNPS
One of the most glaring omissions is in a sidebar to “Successful Student Characteristics”, “Multiple Literacies”: a list of 10 literacies the Strategic Framework claims are the district’s “top academic priorities for all students”. Music Literacy – which is one of the four declared goals of Music Makes Us – is not included in the list that includes:
- Digital Literacy
- Computer Literacy
- Information Literacy
- Technology Literacy
- Media Literacy
- Political Literacy
- Cutural/Multicultural Literacy
- Visual Literacy
- Functional Literacy
The last occurrence of the word arts is buried in the “Our Students” section, in a list of 16 “high-level actions” to support the strategies associated with the student goal “DELIVER HIGH-QUALITY PRE-K – 12 INSTRUCTION AND INCREASE THE RELEVANCY AND RIGOR OF THE PRE-K – 12 CURRICULUM”. No. 10 reads:
- Redesign MNPS middle schools by implementing an integrated, multi-disciplinary STEAM program (Sciences, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).
This tiny announcement buried in the document’s fine print is official notice from MNPS that our middle schools – recently rebranded as “Middle Preps” under former MNPS Chief Academic Officer Jay Steele – will now convert to the trendy “STEAM” curriculum model.
The word music only occurs twice in the entire document:
- In the “After Completing Grades 3 – 4, each Student Will” juncture, one of the bullets reads: “Demonstrate basic skills in music, visual arts, and physical education.” (already listed above).
- In the Multiple Literacies sidebar, in the description “Students today navigate through multiple formats of literacy— films, websites, television, CD-ROMs, books, magazines, music, videos, and newspapers.”
At the very least Music Literacy, which I have begun to write about here, should be included in the breakout descriptions endorsed as “the district’s top academic priority for all students”.
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Are the Director of Schools and the Board of Education Chair unaware that we live in Music City?
“Nashville is Music City, and we know the value of music to our community because we experience it – we hear it – constantly. Music is the very bedrock of our city’s identity, the river of creative expression that runs through everything. And music education in our public schools is where it all starts. Music Makes Us connects the city and our music and business communities to our diverse population of students, providing a foundation for future success and opening doors to higher education, workforce development and a better life.”
~ Nashville Mayor Megan Barry
Music Makes Us website
How could they leave music education out of the Strategic Framework like this? This is inadequate and disappointing, and does not even meet – let alone exceed – any expectations for the hope of quality music education for every child in Metro Nashville Public Schools.