SmartMusic: Comparing Classic to New

Apologies for the long delay between posts. I am in the midst of my Master's Project for my program at the VanderCook College of Music. Couple that with the normal stress and business of three ensembles and a studio of 112 students, and you see why I haven't been writing.Earlier this week, SmartMusicreleased a publicity campaign touting their new web-based version coming this Fall. I have been both a private and public beta tester of the software, and I've remained pretty quiet as we've moved through the testing. I can tell you I am very excited for the implications of this as my district moves to 1:1 with Chromebooks for grades 5-12. Let's take a look at what the new version has to offer:

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2015 in Review

A look at all of the blog posts I made in 2015. Not as much as 2014, perhaps a resolution for 2016... Looking back at the posts, it looks like 2015 was a year frustrated by the conversation around educational funding. It was also a year of learning for myself and my PLC in our work to become better teachers for our students. Take a look: An Update on Iowa's New Start Date - February 14 The Iowa Department of Education and then Director, Brad Buck (now Superintendent of Cedar Rapids Schools), released new criteria for receiving a waiver under Iowa Law requiring a start date no earlier than the week where September 1st falls. This is my analysis of the document.

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Iowa's School Report Card

One of our Governor's four goals is the Best Schools in the Nation. As part of his progress towards "world-class schools," the Governor and the Republican-led House passed an education reform bill in 2013 which led to the creation of the Iowa School Report Card. The Department of Education's FAQ and Technical Guide have several details about the what, why, and how of the report cards. I'll briefly summarize:

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GOP Math on Education Funding Doesn't Add Up

On December 10, 2015, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published a report entitled Most States Have Cut School Funding, and Some Continue Cutting. I discovered it from Scott McLeod's tweet:

According to this report:

  • When adjusted for inflation, the state of Iowa has only increased total state funding per student by 0.04% from 2008-2014.
  • When adjusted for inflation, the current state formula funding per student is 6.2% lower in the current school year (2015-2016, FY2016) than prior to the recession (2007-2008, FY2008).
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Reflecting on What We Do

This past week, we had several guests from Summit Middle School in Johnston and Lenox Community Schools to discuss our implementation of standards-based learning practices, our use of vertical teaching, and our beginning integration of Chromebooks into our curriculum. We pointed our visitors to our work-in-progress website that provides detailed information about all of the above pieces of our program, and then provided opportunities to observe it in action at our 8th and 9th grade building, as well as with our 6th & 7th grade counterparts across town. It was a great time for us to both celebrate and reflect on how we do what we do with our students, and I wanted to write a little bit about that process. My three biggest take-aways were:

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Collecting Data in 2015-2016

If you are a follower of this blog, you know that we teach in a vertical team across three buildings for 6-12th grade band. Over the past three years, that vertical team has put together a system of assessments that aligns to our power standards. We currently use Google Apps for Education to collect our data, but things have changed a bit for this year.

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Shots Fired in Branstad’s War on Education

I am sorry I have not been posting much. My wife and I moved into a bigger place across town shortly after I returned from my grad school program. Right after we moved, my paternal grandmother passed away and band camp started. We are finally settled in; the kitchen remodel is done, and we have internet! Pardon the sensationalist, clickbait title to this post. I thought I would steal a bit from the Fox News rhetoric to add some irony to the situation.Last week, Governor Branstad decided to blame school district superintendents for what he views as poor performance in Iowa schools. From an article in the Des Moines Register:

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VanderSummer 1 is Done!

I spent the past six weeks working on the first of two residency summers working on my Masters of Music Education from VanderCook College of Music in Chicago. The program consists of three 12-credit semesters, two of which must be done as residencies. The other semester involves taking continuing education credits in their MECA program. These credits can be taken online or in person throughout the school year. I completed this portion of my program last year:

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Math on Educational Funding

Our legislature finallypassed a supplemental growth rate of 1.25% on June 5, 113 days later than required by law. Our governor finallysigned this legislation today, on July 2, another 27 days later.

Here is the thing: Not only did the governor veto the $55.7M passed by the legislature as a one-time spend from our state's more than $450M surplus. The legislators hid $50M of Teacher Leadership funding within the School Foundation Aid budget.

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Changing the Conversation

I had an outstanding "last day of summer" yesterday: boating with friends, enjoying the sun, making wood-fired pizzas outside. I wish I had thought to take some pictures. I say "last day of summer" because tomorrow I leave for my first residency semester for my Masters of Music Education program at VanderCook College of Music in Chicago. While at this Wednesday Night Boat Party, I had very interesting discussions with my friends and host's parents about how education is changing in Iowa and around the country, particularly in regards to funding. I have been operating in a world where I am surrounded by people that either agree with or are diametrically opposed to my thoughts on educational funding. It was a good experience to get to converse with people whose thoughts are in the middle of the issue and whose stakes are different than my own. My friend and colleague, Pat Kearney, has written quite a bit about the conversation (or lack thereof) that has been going on about educational funding in Iowa. His most recent post talks about our purpose as educators.

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Iowa's 2015 Education Budget

Iowa's 2015 Education Budget is still not settled. As of June 5, 2015, the Iowa Legislature finally passed State Supplemental Growth for Iowa schools. We now await the governor's signature. Let's take a look at what they passed: State Supplement Growth at 1.25%SF 171 originated in the Senate on February 5, 23 days after the governor proposed a budget in his Condition of the State address. This falls within the 30 days required by law in Iowa Code 257 Section 8.1. The deadline for passing this legislations was February 12, 30 days after the governor proposed his budget. Amendments, discussions, messages, and votes appear along the history of this bill which continues well past the February 12th deadline. Most importantly, Amendment H-1009, adopted on February 24, changing state percent of growth to 1.25% from the Senate's original proposal of 4%. Finally, on June 5, the Senate passed the amended version of the bill 45-5 and the House passed it 53-36.

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Standards for Jazz Band - TQ Project

This past week, our Vertical PLC chose to use Teacher Quality funds to spend some time developing standards for our 7-12th grade jazz bands.

Much of the time we spent worked backwards from the top high school group (Jazz Collective) to our first groups (7th Grade). As team, we identified the skills we wanted students in Jazz Collective to be able to do. We then worked backwards from these skill sets through our different ensembles (Jazz Studio, 9th Grade, 8th Grade, 7th Grade) to identify what was going to be taught when.

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Reflection: 2015 IBA Conference

I typed this post shortly after the conference ended on May 16th, and then forgot about it with all the business leading up to graduation and the end of the school year. Over the past two days, hundreds of Iowa band directors descended on the Marriott Hotel in Des Moines for the Iowa Bandmasters Association 2015 Conference. This is the tenth conference I have attended, and it was the best overall. There wasn’t a single hour in either day that there wasn’t a clinic or performance I didn’t want to attend. Let’s try that sentence without all the negatives: There was something I wanted to attend every single hour of both days of the conference. IBA President Jacqui Meunier hosted outstanding clinicians and performances throughout. I wanted to get my thoughts out on “paper” quickly, so I could begin to implement them in my classroom.

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Reflection: Sound Reinforcement and Recording Techniques

This semester, I took a hybrid course through VanderCook College of Music called Sound Reinforcement and Recording Techniques. The course was three weeks long: two weeks of online build-up to an 8 hour day onsite at VanderCook with a one week follow-up. Our final assignment was to submit a reflection. Here is that prompt:

Please submit a brief (1-2 page) summary and reflection paper detailing what you've learned from taking this course, and how you plan to utilize the information in your particular teaching situation.

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What We do Matters

I am currently working on a post that traces the history of funding public education in Iowa. I am curious just how the funding formula has changed since the 1950s. This is taking a lot of research and as a "break" (HA!), I thought I would respond to a post my friend and colleague, Pat Kearney, wrote last week entitled A Community of Educators. Pat wrote an outstanding post about his thinking around the challenges facing educators today. I can't encourage you enough to go and check out his writing.

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An Update on Educational Funding and Start Dates in Iowa

I have written, tweeted, Facebook-ed, and talked quite a bit about education in Iowa over the past few weeks. Our governor has started an uproar over school start dates and state supplemental aid, the magical formula for funding our schools. We have still not arrived at a solution, and the timeline is getting tighter. I wanted to write a bit more in the hopes of maybe easing my frustration with it all.

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