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An Interview with Dr. Colleen Conway: Partnership for Music Education Policy Development Innaugural Summit

Colleen Conway

Dr. Colleen Conway is a Professor of Music Education at The University of Michigan and a founding member of the Partnership for Music Education Policy Development (PMEPD). I interviewed Dr. Conway over the phone to dis- cuss the recent policy summit held by PMEPD at Michigan State University on June 14, 2014. In this interview, Dr. Conway shares her thoughts from the summit, as well as advice on how teachers can affect positive change in their communities.

1. PMEPD defined two current goals for mu- sic education policy in the state of Michigan. The first speaks to the K-5 music requirement for schools and indicates that we are currently one of only 5 states without an elementary music mandate. What is the current require- ment for elementary music in Michigan? Are there specifics included in the recommenda- tion for a K-5 music requirement?

Andrea VanDeusen

Currently, there is nothing from the state that mandates music instruction must happen at the elementary level. Many districts have district- level requirements, but these are not monitored by any state level policy. There is an applied arts mandate at the high-school level, but even this is not music-specific and can be fulfilled by computer courses or even industrial arts. Yet, at the elementary level, there are no mandates for music, art, or physical education.

Our current recommendation is that students receive elementary music twice a week for 45 minutes from a certified music teacher. This is what exists in other states, including Texas and New York. However, it was mentioned that while districts many not disagree with the mandate, they might have trouble implement- ing its details because of resources. So, how important are the details? Maybe it is more important for us to be sure we have a certified music teacher teaching music rather than add- ing details to the mandate on items like student


contact time. The larger problem for me was that the chair of the Board of Education was unaware that there wasn’t a state mandate for elementary music.

PMEPD is working hard to figure out the best strategy to advocate a K-5 mandate. If the specific instruction time details we suggest will hinder progress, do they matter? We have to look at what we can win. Something is better than nothing.

2. The second goal speaks to teacher certifica- tion. Currently, there is a loophole that al- lows K-8 classroom certified teachers to teach music. How is this affecting public school music programs?

Highly qualified teaching includes musician- ship. It’s not listening to some instruments and talking about how it makes you feel; classroom teachers can do that. It’s also music for music’s sake and the only people who can teach that are musicians. It’s not bad to use music as a teaching tool in the classroom, but when certified music teachers aren’t teaching music, we lose focus on sequential instruction leading to musicianship. Certainly, economic issues come into play and school districts can create schedules so that someone is teaching music. Parents don’t know this is happening and technically, music is still being offered, but we’re missing out when certified music teach- ers aren’t teaching music.

3. Senator Warren mentioned that as a state we are making educational policy changes without looking at the effects of what we’ve already implemented. From your perspective, what have been the effects of these changes?

We are talking about how to evaluate teaching the Common Core and we don’t know what the objectives are. How do we evaluate that? We don’t know. With respect to teacher evalu-

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