Instructor: Mitchell Robinson, Ph.D.

Associate Professor and Chair of Music Education

School phone: 355.7555

Office: MPB 208


Mitchell Robinson, Ph.D.

Welcome to my web page! Use the links to the left to find resources on graduate study and advising at Michigan State University and information on our doctoral students and graduates in music education.


There is also a link to a page devoted to the distribution of clinic and workshop materials, handouts, research presentations, and other music education resources. All materials are offered free of charge and may be duplicated as needed, with proper citations and acknowledgements.


Focus on STEM overshadows importance of music education | Michigan Radio

When we talk about building an education system that prepares children for the creative thinking and collaboration skills necessary in today’s -- and tomorrow’s --  job market, there’s an amazing resource here in Michigan that, like most places, gets almost criminally overlooked: music educators.

My job allows me to travel quite a bit, so I’ve had the opportunity to see some of the finest music programs and teachers across the country, and I believe that Michigan has some of the best school music programs in the nation. There are a few reasons why:

• The quality of music teachers here is outstanding. They are talented, smart and well-informed.

• Michigan's teachers also tend to be well-connected to their professional organizations and seek out professional development. Research tells us that teachers who attend professional development events tend to remain active members of the profession, while those who don’t often wind up leaving the classroom.

• Music programs in Michigan are grounded in solid pedagogical foundations, with comprehensive, sequential general music programs in the elementary schools; and strong band, orchestra and chorus programs at the secondary level.

While we are fortunate to be in a state with excellent music programs, sadly this is not the case in every school. Recently, the Lansing School District made the decision to lay-off nearly all of its certified teachers in elementary music, art and physical education. This creates an enormous equity issue for children and families in this region — those who live in Lansing’s suburbs enjoy rich, meaningful offerings in the arts, while their peers in the city have little-to-no access to these same opportunities. This must change.

So, too, must the way we evaluate music teachers. If studies already show that measuring teacher effectiveness through test score improvements is simplistic and naïve, it is then especially troubling for music teachers that part of their annual effectiveness rating is often based on test scores in subjects that they don’t teach, like math or reading, and on test scores for children that are not even in their classes. That doesn’t seem right or fair.

We often hear the saying, “We test what we value.” I would respectfully suggest that exactly the opposite is true. In fact, the things that we value and care about the most are those things that are precisely the most resistant to measurement. For many students, music is one of those things they care about the most; it brings meaning to their lives. It’s one of the most powerful ways they have to make sense of their world.

I would also like to challenge the notion that the main purpose of schools is to produce the nation’s workforce. This stance represents a re-conceptualization of the true purpose of education, from one that is about the development of meaningful relationships between teachers and learners, and among learners, to one that is simply a transfer of information from teacher to learner -- a sort of educational “banking transaction”, if you will.

To be clear, I am not against the development of students who are capable of moving on to college or the workforce, but that is not the purpose of education and never has been. That’s a byproduct of schooling, not a purpose. Just as the reason for teaching music is not to help children get good ratings at competitions, but rather to help them learn the musical skills and knowledge in order to become lifelong music makers and supporters of the arts.

So what’s the Next Idea?

I remain very optimistic about the future for music educators in Michigan because never before has what we have to offer been more desperately needed -- by our students, our schools and our society. I know that music, when taught well, provides the “antidote” to today’s “teach-to-the-test,” assessment-driven culture because music study offers the very things that employers say they are looking for in the workforce, and for what school leaders emphasize in mission and vision statements: critical thinking, teamwork, problem-solving skills, and creativity. Or, in the words of Dr. Elliott Eisner, renowned arts educator: “Our schools, teachers, and students might be a lot better off if schools embraced the idea that education means learning what to do when you don’t know what to do.”

As the father of two school-age boys, I see firsthand the impact of a fine school music program on my children. They understand that there is often more than one “right” way to answer a question, especially when the question is a difficult one. They are comfortable with what psychologists call “divergent” thinking, which is the ability to see multiple solutions to a problem. Children who study music know how to work together collaboratively in groups, to value the efforts of all team members, and that every person has the ability to make a worthwhile contribution to the group’s work.

In order to help move Michigan toward a future in which all students have access to a strong and vibrant music education, there are two policy initiatives that the Partnership for Music Education Policy Development, a Michigan think-tank dedicated to promoting music education, says will help:

1.      To amend the School Code to require elementary schools to provide a comprehensive, sequential music education, delivered by a certified, qualified music teacher, for every student in grades kindergarten to five. Currently, Michigan is one of only a handful of states that does not mandate music instruction for elementary school students.

2.      To modify the current teacher evaluation system for music teachers to insure a more fair and more equitable process is followed.

It’s time that music teachers stop apologizing for their role in helping our students to become more comfortable with their feelings and their emotions. This is not a weakness in what we do, it’s a great strength. By ensuring that access to a full and complete education is guaranteed for all of Michigan’s children, we move closer to realizing the great power and promise of music in our schools, because, when taught well, music can provide the means for our students to figure out what to do when they don’t know what to do. And that should be what we want for all of our children. 

Share Your Ideas:

  •  How has studying music affected your life? 
  • In your view, what is the purpose of education and where does music fit in? 

Join the conversation in the comments section below, on Twitter or Facebook, or let us know your Next Idea here

Mitchell Robinson is an associate professor of music education and chair of the music education area at Michigan State University.

Click on this link to hear an interview with Cynthia Canty of Michigan Radio about the essay...

The Inchworm and the Nightingale: On the (Mis)use of Data in Music Teacher Evaluation

Click here to read this article in Arts Education Policy Review:

When We Want to Improve Something...

The following post appeared on the Badass Teachers Association blog ( on December 4, 2014

When we want to improve something--a product, a process, a project--in the business world, we devote more time, money and resources into research and development; we recruit talented people and pay them a competitive wage; we make sure we surround those persons with excellent facilities, equipment, materials, working conditions, benefits, and retirement packages; we treat those employees with dignity, respect and compassion.

When we want to improve something--teacher quality, student learning--in public education, we establish invalid and unreliable accountability measures that have been proven not to work; we eliminate teacher tenure, teacher unions, and minimum salary requirements; we make it easier for unqualified people to enter the profession, taking away jobs from more experienced (read = more expensive) teachers; we deregulate charter schools as we impose unreasonable demands and expectations on our public schools, teachers and students.

And then we blame teachers and students for the problems created by this mismanagement, and label them as "whiners" and "complainers" when they have the nerve to voice their concerns about the damage being done to public education.

Washington Post article on TFA

2014 Music Education Policy Summit

Over 50 music teachers, music teacher educators and music education advocates attended and participated in the Music Education Policy Summit at Michigan State University on June 14, 2014. It was inspiring to see and hear from so many passionate, dedicated individuals about their challenges, successes and hopes for the future of our profession. In the words of one panelist, "When people ask me how things are going in Michigan, I always say that it's amazing how much we get done with such bad music education policy in our state." So very true.

Building on this momentum we are excited to pursue the next steps in our agenda:

1. To propose and implement a K-5 music requirement for Michigan's public schools. We are currently one of 5 states to not have an elementary music mandate. This is unacceptable, and our kids and schools deserve better.

2. To strengthen teacher certification requirements that currently allow schools to replace certified music teachers (MI certificate JQ) with those who hold a K-8 "all subjects" certificate. This is unacceptable, and our kids and schools deserve better.

To learn more about the Partnership for Music Education Policy Development, and to support our efforts to influence music education policy in Michigan and nationally, please go to


Oxford Handbook of Qualitative Research in American Music Education

Qualitative research has become increasingly popular in music education over the last decade, yet there is no source that explains the terms, approaches and issues associated with this approach. In The Oxford Handbook of Qualitative Research in American Music Education, editor Colleen Conway and the contributing music educators provide that clarification, as well as models of qualitative studies within various music education disciplines. The handbook outlines the history of qualitative research in American music education and explores the contemporary use of qualitative approaches in examining issues related to music teaching and learning. It includes 32 chapters that address a range of topics, from ways of approaching qualitative research and ways of collecting and analyzing data, to the various music teaching and learning contexts that have been studied using qualitative approaches. 


My two chapters are: 


6 ‐ Changing the Conversation: Considering Quality in Music Education Qualitative Research.


31 ‐ The Politics of Publication: Voices, Venues and Ethics.


To browse an online version of the Handbook, please go to:

Media and Social Media Coverage

See below for links to recent radio interviews and media coverage on education policy and other related issues.

State Side Interview with Cynthia Canty

Click below to hear my interview with Cynthia Canty on Michigan Radio's State Side on Feb. 19.

As Michigan moves into new, uncharted waters in terms of testing and evaluating those who hope to become teachers, there are many views on whether this testing and evaluation is fair, helpful, and an accurate measurement of how students, teachers, and schools are doing.

Mitchell Robinson is an associate professor and chair of music education at Michigan State University. A former teacher, his research is now focused on education policy and the mentoring of new music teachers. 

He believes test scores like the beefed-up version of Michigan's teacher certification test aren't telling us anything substantial about students or learning.

Asking the Wrong Questions

Click below to read my guest column on "Okemos Parents for Schools", a response to Thomas Friedman's piece, "Obama's Homework Assignment":

WKAR Current State Radio Interview

Local arts organizations seek return of certified teachers in Lansing schools

Last spring, in response to a budget deficit, the Lansing Public School District laid off 87 teachers who were certified to teach art, music and physical education in its elementary schools.

Now more than a month into the school year, we thought it would be a good time to check-in on how this is playing out and find out what options are on the table to educate Lansing students in these crucial subjects.

In the coming weeks here on Current State, we plan to have a series of conversations with all of the stakeholders – parents, teachers, and district officials. Today, we start off with community arts providers.

Click here to listen to the interview:

Barb Whitney is a program manager and interim director of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing. And Mitchell Robinson is an associate professor and chair of the Music Education department in Michigan State University’s College of  Music.

Music Education Advocacy

Experts at MSU take action and provide perspective

School districts across the nation are faced with challenging economic times. When tough decisions need to be made, arts funding is one of the first things some districts put under the microscope. Music Education at MSU looks at this through a different lens and plays a strong advocacy role for the arts in its community, across the state and nation.

In March of 2013, the Lansing School District announced it would cut more than 80 elementary art, music, and physical education teacher positions beginning in the fall of 2013. Faced with some tough budgetary issues and new State of Michigan Right-to-Work legislation, the school board and teachers union made the decision to eliminate teacher positions and supplement their programing by placing additional demands on existing teachers and seeking non-binding external subject matter resources and personnel.

Dr. Mitch Robinson, associate professor and chair of music education, and Rhonda Buckley, associate dean for outreach and engagement and executive director of the MSU Community Music School, took prompt action. They reached out to local and national arts organizations, teachers, parents, the MSU College of Education, and various associations to advocate for the centrality and importance of arts education in the general curriculum. New dialogues have evolved and relationships have developed as the College of Music continues to provide leadership on this issue.

Click here to read more on the College of Music’s perspective on this issue and listen to a radio interview with Mitch Robinson.


2013 Michigan Music Conference Features MSU Presenters, Clinicians and Conductors

The 2013 Michigan Music Conference will feature an impressive roster of presenters with MSU affiliations--just click to see a full size version of the poster!


We should all be proud of our friends and colleagues who will be sharing their knowledge and expertise with their colleagues in our schools at this event. See below for a listing of these sessions. 


I'd also like to point out three events for your special attention:


• Dr. Cindy Taggart will be presenting an all day (8:00am-4:00pm) pre-conference workshop, titled "Illuminating the Mystery: Music Learning Theory in Action. Cindy will be joined by two Spartan alums, Jennifer Bailey and Heather Shouldice, who will be co-presenters. This promises to be a terrific workshop!


• Dr. Kevin Sedatole, MSU's Director of Bands, will be conducting the Michigan All-State High School Band on Saturday. It will be great to have Dr. Sedatole share his musicianship and artistry with our state's young musicians. Congratulations Kevin!


• Dr. John Kratus will be receiving the MMEA "Award of Merit" for his contributions to the state's music education community, especially for his founding of the annual MMEA Honors Composition Concert, which will be held on Saturday, January 19. Congratulations to John for this well deserved honor!


Also, if you are planning to attend the MMC, please remember to join us for the MSU Reception on Friday. The reception will be held from 5:00-6:30pm in the Governors Room, and is a great way to catch up with old friends and touch base with the faculty and current students. We hope to see you there!



Congratulations to all of our presenters and clinicians, and thank you for sharing your expertise and ideas with your colleagues!

It's Out!

Click on the picture to the left to go to the Teachers College Press web page on our new book, What Every Principal Needs to Know to Create Equitable and Excellent Schools, edited by George Theoharis (Syracuse University) and Jeff Brooks (Iowa State University). My chapter is titled, "Music Teaching and Learning in a Time of Reform."


About the book. . . 


School leaders who succeed at creating a high-achieving learning community must also be committed to creating an equitable environment for all students. In this new book, key scholars across the content areas show how to put into practice a commitment to equity and excellence across the Pre-K–12 spectrum. Readers learn directly from experts in each of the content domains (literacy, mathematics, science, social studies, music, early childhood, special education, English language learners, world languages, and physical education) how a commitment to social justice and equity can be grounded in core subject areas, why each has a place in the school, and what they need to know and do in each subject area. This book is a critical instructional leadership resource for new and veteran principals who want to see all students succeed. 


“This book is a noble work of art; it is thoughtful, well written, and passionate. The authors and editors provide the pathway for all of us to contribute to social justice. It is a must-read!” 

—Sarah Jerome, superintendent, Arlington Heights, Illinois, and past president of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) 


“By forging the linkage between equity and leader`s subject knowledge, Theoharis and Brooks provide a much needed and important extension in our understanding of instructional leadership.” 

—Joseph F. Murphy, Vanderbilt University 


“At last a book on what principals need to know that doesn’t sacrifice the idea of an education to develop the entire human being instead of workers who can compete with China.” 

—Fenwick W. English, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


“Bridges the gap between the intellectual considerations of academia and the everyday aspects of leadership practice. It is a must-read for principals, superintendents, curriculum specialists, and those who prepare them.” 

—Autumn Cyprès, The University of Tennessee 


“Finally, a thoughtful, well-crafted book that guides school leaders on promoting both high-quality teaching and learning and equity principles to improve student learning across content areas and needs.” 

—Terry Orr, Bank Street College of Education 


“WOW! Social justice leadership with explicit core content areas addressed all in one book. All principals hoping to improve student achievement and equity should consider this book when thinking about their leadership.” 

—Deborah Hoffman, principal, Lincoln Elementary School, Madison, WI 


“As a school principal in high-need schools for the past ten years, I truly recommend this book to anyone interested in improving the state of learning and increasing achievement scores.” 

—Rob DiFlorio, principal, Henninger High School, Syracuse, NY 


Contributors: Antonio J. Castro • Julie Causton-Theoharis • Virginia Collier • Katherine Delaney • Catherine Ennis • Virginia Goatley • Beth Graue • Rochelle Gutiérrez • Kathleen A. Hinchman • Anne Karabon • Christi Kasa • Dave McAlpine • Mitchell Robinson • Victor Sampson • Sherry A. Southerland • Wayne Thomas 


240 pages Paperback, $29.95 | 978-0-8077-5353-8 Hardcover, $76 | 978-0-8077-5354-5 


Table of Contents 


1. Literacy—Leading Literacy Programs That Foster Excellence in All Students 

2. Mathematics—Beyond the Achievement Gap: What It Takes to Become an Effective Leader in Mathematics for Marginalized Youth 

3. Science—Creating Effective School Leaders for 21st-Century Science 

4. Social Studies—Teaching Social Studies for Democratic Equity and Excellence 

5. Music—Music Teaching and Learning in a Time of Reform 

6. Early Childhood—Learning to Love Your Noisy Neighbor: A Principal’s Guide to the Education of Young Children 

7. Special Education—Leadership for Inclusive Education: What Every Principal Needs to Know 

8. English Language Learners—What Really Works for English Language Learners: Research-Based Practices for Principals 

9. World Languages—Understanding Foreign Language Instruction in Your School 

10. Physical Education—Innovative Practices and Programs in Physical Education


George Theoharis is an Associate Dean in the School of Education at Syracuse University and an Associate Professor in Educational Leadership and Inclusive Elementary Education. He is the author of The School Leaders Our Children Deserve. 

Jeffrey S. Brooks is Associate Professor and Program Coordinator of Educational Administration at Iowa State University. He is the author of Black School, White School: Racism and Educational (Mis)leadership. 


To order, call 800-575-6566 or visit 

Follow us @TCPress 

For special bulk sales, please contact TC Press at: (212) 678-3919 

For exam/desk copy requests go to: 


Teachers College 

Columbia University