Category Archives: Current Projects

Consultant to El Sistema Fellows (Boston, MA)

Attention all El Sistema-Inspired Entrepreneurs!

I would like to introduce myself to you all as a personal resource for all El Sistema leaders interested in building capacity for research and evaluation as part of your long-term goals for your nucleo/programs. Beside creating and chairing the Music-in-Education Department at NEC since 1998, I have been running a national research and development center (Center for Music-in-Education) for over ten years and have served as a “principal investigator” for over a dozen federal and locally funded music education projects over the past fifteen years (including initiating and co-directing the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston) and I am eager to share my perspectives and learn from El Sistema leaders that began their careers as El Sistema Fellows at NEC.

In discussion with Heath, I have agreed to serve the El Sistema Fellow support network as someone who is deeply interested in the El Sistema movement as model for music education that can serve the entire public school community.

My particular take on El Sistema is that it is essentially an open-access (no auditions or determination of talent), intensive (requiring the hours of practice that are needed to acquire a significant music education), and community-enriching (engaging multi-age populations supported by community partnerships) model of music education. Yet I also believe that El Sistema programs in the U.S. need to pay close attention to documenting and analyzing student learning outcomes—ranging from effective home practice, engagement in community service, musical progress to academic performance and social-emotional development—in order to succeed.

El Sistema leaders have reported to me that they must pay attention first to program development needs, yet they are constantly aware that research and evaluation are vital to the success of their organization. It is my experience that the main reason R&E plans don’t materialize is that the organization currently lacks the information and guidance necessary to carefully develop the capacity to manage research and evaluation methods effectively or in ways that serve best the needs of fast-developing nucleo programs.

This is why I am volunteering now to help nucleos that are interesting in developing the capacity to plan, manage and learn from their research and evaluation efforts.

Specifically, I am interested in providing special research and design guidance for those sites who would be interested in “starting small” by working on a designed pilot study that can later turn into something much larger over time – a proposal for a 3-5 year research-based program development plan crafted to support mission and goals of your organization and reporting student learning outcomes from both your organization and in relation to local public school performance.

The next step?   Please indicate your interest starting your research and development plan to Heath and we will arrange a conference call for those who are interested in finding out more about how to take the first steps toward this goal.

Oakland Unified School District (Oakland, CA)

For full report see MILE PI Report


From 2005-2013 the Oakland Unified School District developed, implemented and finally researched the Music Integrated Learning Environment (MILE) Project, offered as a model of support for early literacy intervention strategies to address school improvement through “Music PLUS Music Integration” (M+MI) professional development, curricular units, instructional practices, portfolio practices, and musical literacy skills tests. This project targeted high poverty schools with a high percentage of students at risk for failure in both early literacy and social-emotional development. The cross-sectional design of this project developed a parallel set of literacy-rich, music-integrated instructional program interventions in lower elementary (Grades K-2) and upper elementary (Grades 3-5) curriculum.

Findings from the project indicate that, with the advent of professional development programs aimed at M+MI teaching practices and support from digital portfolio systems for both music and classroom teachers, (a) MILE school student cohorts outperformed their matched control school cohorts in academic achievement and musical literacy skills, (b) low performing MILE school results approached the level of performance of the high performing laboratory schools that had far more experience with MILE, and (c) MILE schools demonstrated a relatively higher “degree of association” between music learning and academic achievement outcomes—especially for African American students. We have seen the school culture of low income families transformed by MILE teaching and learning practices through qualitative analysis of teacher focus group interviews. We have learned that (a) MILE digital portfolios can demonstrate high quality curriculum units that reveal both the nature and impact of MILE on critical thinking, meta-cognition and social development, (b) adapted M+MI lessons and assessment instruments can be employed productively in both music and classrooms, and (c) MILE portfolio conference interview tools in the future can be used to rate teacher and student reflective understanding of M+MI and its impact on teaching and learning in elementary school classrooms.