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Report from NAfME: the ISME national affiliate in the United States of America

By Glenn E. Nierman, Immediate Past President, NAfME

National Association for Music Education (NAfME), among the world’s largest arts education organizations, is the only U.S. association that addresses all aspects of music education. NAfME advocates at the local, state, and national levels; provides resources for teachers, parents, and administrators; hosts professional development events; and offers a variety of opportunities for students and teachers. The Association orchestrates success for millions of students nationwide and has supported music educators at all teaching levels for more than a century.

Since 1907, NAfME has worked to ensure that every student has access to a well-balanced, comprehensive, and high-quality program of music instruction taught by qualified teachers. NAfME was originally called Music Supervisors’ National Conference; then, in 1934, it became Music Educators National Conference (MENC). In 1998, the name changed to MENC: The National Association for Music Education. On September 1, 2011, the organization became simply National Association for Music Education. NAfME’s activities and resources have been largely responsible for the establishment of music education as a profession, for the promotion and guidance of music study as an integral part of the school curriculum, and for the development of the National Standards for Arts Education in the United States.

The current focus of NAfME can perhaps best be defined through its Strategic Plan, which is available at nafme.org/about/mission-and-goals/. The NAfME Strategic plan is a five-year plan, which covers the period from 2016-2021. It includes several key areas—a vision statement, a mission statement, strategic directions, etc. The focus of this newsletter report will be on the mission statement and the strategic directions, as these areas define what the organization intends to accomplish in the immediate future.

The mission of NAfME is to “advance music education by promoting the understanding and making of music by all” (NAfME Strategic Plan, par. 1). This idea of promoting the understanding and making of music by all has been a staple tenet of the organization almost from its beginning in 1907. Unfortunately, there is still much work to be done in our country with respect to bringing music education to all students. Equity of opportunity to access music education across the country is not equal, particularly in our inner cities and our smaller rural schools. The curricula in music education in our schools are not attracting large segments of our secondary school population; all students are not included in music education in the schools. Further, there is a lack of diversity among our music educators who teach in these schools.

NAfME has chosen now to initiate several different projects to promote inclusion, diversity, equity and access within our organization, including the funding of two large research projects at ten thousand dollars each in this area. NAfME wants to do more in these areas, and it needs to do more in getting diverse leadership involved in the organization. The organization has taken steps to do that as well; but these two research projects are certainly going to have the potential to make an impact in this particular area. Further, in the years ahead, NAfME has chosen to look at everything through a lens of inclusion, diversity, equity and access—whether it is how NAfME selects students for national honors ensembles or state honors ensembles, or whether it's something like membership on the NAfME governing board. NAfME is committed to improving inclusion, diversity, equity, and access in all facets of music education.

Another very important part of a strategic plan is strategic directions. Why? Because strategic directions not only define the most important areas that need attention in an organization, but they also define how the goals written to address these needs will be realized. A strategic direction might be defined as a course of action that leads to the achievement of the mission. The four strategic directions in the NAfME Strategic Plan for 2016-2021 are Advocacy, Leading the Profession, Research, and Capacity Building. The term action is important here. The strategic directions are not simply static categories into which various “how to” statements are placed. The direction itself defines action. For example, advocacy connotes the stance of being proactive rather than reactive. It is about informing, engaging, and activating others to promote the understanding and making of music by all. (Note the action orientations of the verbs inform, engage, and activate.)

Space does not permit a review of all four of these strategic directions in this newsletter, but perhaps research deserves some additional comment. Research, upon first consideration, may seem to be misplaced as a strategic direction. After all, where’s the action orientation in research? For NAfME, there’s plenty of action orientation in research. It is about producing, promoting and disseminating sound data for a dual purpose—advancing music teaching and learning and persuading policy decision makers. It is this dual purpose that is at the very core of why research is a key strategic direction for our organization. Advancing music teaching and learning involves promoting two kinds of research: fundamental or basic research and clinical or applied research. Just as advancing music teaching and learning through both kinds of research is important to orchestrating success for music students, so using research to persuade policy decision makers about music education’s efficacy for helping students prepare for a quality personal and professional life is equally significant. Decision makers in the U.S. are increasingly interested in using high quality applied research to support education policy choices. Research, such as Ken Elpus’s “Evaluating the Effect of No Child Left Behind on U.S. Music Course Enrollments” (2014) and Peter Miksza’s (2010) “ Investigating Relationships between Participation in High School Music Ensembles and Extra-musical Outcomes: An Analysis of the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 using a Bioecological Development Model” are prime examples of applied research studies, published in NAfME’s premiere research journal, the Journal of Research in Music Education, that seek to address particular problems or issues in our field of interest to decision makers.

In summary, NAfME is proud to be an ISME National Affiliate and to join ISME in caring about music education around the world and believing that music makes a difference in people’s lives. NAfME now has formal affiliations around the world in both Europe and India. To find out more about NAfME—its mission, the organization, and its strategic plan—please visit nafme.org.