what would betty atterbury say

R – I never met Betty before she passed away in 1998. I was still teaching in New Hampshire at the time and had not crossed paths with her while I was up in Orono doing my graduate work a few years earlier. One thing I do know is that her reputation is still legendary here in Maine. She was an author, educator, mentor and researcher. She was also, by all accounts, an extraordinarily loved person. I was going through some old files at home this afternoon and came across a series of articles she wrote for the MMEA Bulletin in 1992, reporting out research that she did on music education in Maine. Her research yielded an extraordinary 62% participation rate so her stats had a very high validity. For fun, I decided to cross reference her findings with those from the state-wide Opportunities To Learn Census that Argy Nestor and the Maine Alliance for Arts Education put together 17 years later in 2009. Here’s a few tidbits I found:

* In 1992, Betty reported that 35% of 8th graders and 28% of 7th graders were receiving music instruction. The Census showed that those numbers became 60% and 45% respectively.

* Betty’s research showed that 67% of music teachers in Maine served in two or more buildings (16% of the state music educators taught in FOUR or more different sites!). By 2007, that number was down to 46% at the elementary level and 33% at the secondary.

* Betty said, “One finding that concerns me is the drop-off in required music instruction in higher grades… what other subject is no longer taught to every student after sixth or fifth grade?”. Seventeen years later from the Census, “Overall, there appears to be little continuity of moderate or extensive provision within districts for K -12 arts education… regardless of the relative wealth or size of the district.” The current data reflects only a 20% participation rate of our high school population in our music programs.

* 1992: 1% (that’s not a typo) of elementary teachers met with their students more than once a week. By 2009, that number has been pushed up to 31%.

* Right now we have a gifted and talented program in place for Maine that Schools are being held accountable for. In 1992 there were a total of THREE TEACHERS in our state who reported that they were teaching gifted and talented coursework.

* Betty reported that 50% of Maine’s music teachers taught in a room designated for music. By 2009 that number became 72% at the elementary level, 89% at the secondary level.

* Average budget: elementary music 1992= approximately $1,000. elementary music 2009= $2,191. The 1992 data is difficult to determine at the secondary level as Betty broke it down by vocal and then instrumental. But for vocal, 77% of choral directors reported a budget of less than $1,700 a year (16% had a budget less than $500) and instrumentalists reported a median of approximately $3,000. The overall median for 2009 secondary schools is reported at $6,250.

* In 1992, less than three quarters of our teachers taught in districts with a written curriculum guide. Seventeen years later, elementary reported 81%, secondary reported 77%.

I think Betty would be happy about many of the trends, discouraged at others and very proud of us all and our progress in general. Thanks to the work that is going on at the national and state levels, with our 7 districts and regional music associations, our partnerships, local school districts and very vocal advocates, we are making progress. In 1992 we did not have a Visual & Performing Arts Specialist at the Department of Education. Fifteen years later the Arts Are Basic Coalition, along with others, succeeded in getting the position reinstated. Now our specialist has brought us to dizzying heights, implementing professional development and collaboration on a scale that quite literally is the envy of other states across the country (did you know that the Arts Assessment Initiative is the first of its kind in the country and that Argy Nestor now has more people on her blog listserve than there are arts educators in all of Maine?). We’ve defeated legislation that would have cut us off at the knees and continue to do advocacy work in Augusta. Today, we need to look at where we are in every single school in Maine and push for “more” and “better”. Resources. Opportunities. Teachers. Schedules. Time allotment. Understanding. Relevance.

To close, my favorite quote of Betty Atterbury’s from her articles 20 years ago is, “One way (to advocate for change) is to present professional standards that our organization supports.” Maine continues to move forward with the Arts Assessment Initiative and are beginning our alignment with a new state law mandating standards based assessment for all subject areas. Our new national standards are being unveiled this winter. So the question I’d pose to you as we begin our new school year: what changes are you going to push for from yourself, in your school and your program THIS year? Lets continue to make the strides forward our students so desperately deserve. What would Betty Atterbury say to that?

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5 Responses to what would betty atterbury say

  1. Jay D. Nelson says:

    Betty would undoubtedly say great job to you Rob for all of your great work! She would then say there is still much to be done and not to settle for the advancements we have made as an organization. Yes, celebrate the victories but continue to press forward in making music education stronger in the places where much can be improved!

  2. Mike Davis says:

    Betty was my instructor and advisor for 4 years at USM and she would certainly be proud of the advocacy with assessments and efforts at making music education stronger in this state. She would also maintain that those people teaching music must be teaching quality instruction. Betty had very high standards and expectations and we are all better teachers because of her leadership!

  3. Pingback: what would betty atterbury say | Goober Music Teachers | Studio News

  4. Alice Sullivan says:

    Nice job Rob. I remember Betty fondly from serving with her on the MMEA board. She was an amazing lady who always backed up her convictions with valid research and well thought out statements. I’m sure her work will always serve as a benchmark of where we were and a motivator in moving us forward.

  5. Genie O'Connell says:

    In addition to being a demanding and inspiring teacher, Betty was also a friend who was always connecting people. In 1989 when our infant daughter born with a rare form of skeletal dysplasia desperately needed an orthopedic surgeon with some experience, out of the blue came the answer to our prayers from Betty. She’d saved an article about Dr. Steven Kopits from a national paper and sent it to me. Dr. Kopits was at that time one of the world’s leading skeletal dysplasia experts. Our daughter became his patient and her life was transformed through his nurture and expertise. I think this is another example from Betty -namely, to look out for our students in ways both musical and non-musical. It isn’t measurable so it won’t appear in statistics anywhere but I think the music teachers in Maine are doing just this and Betty would probably say, “this is good, now what else can we do?”

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