Inspiring the Next Generation of Music Educators

Bob Morrison • CommentaryFebruary 2024 • February 19, 2024

It is no secret schools in the United States face the most significant educator workforce shortage in our Nation’s history. The combination of the extensive number of educators leaving the field as the world emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, the increasing encroachment of political issues into the schools, and a significant decrease in the number of students choosing education as a career pathway has created a perfect storm that has left many of schools scrambling for staffing. Music and the performing arts are not immune from this storm. 

Recognizing the shortage of music educators poses a significant threat to the future of music education in our schools, a coalition of like-minded national organizations involved with music education joined forces in the Fall of 2021 to address this challenge. Recognizing this issue was bigger than any individual organization, the National Federal of State High School Associations joined with the American Choral Directors Association, American String Teachers Association, Music for All, the National Association for Music Education, National Association of Music Merchants, and dozens of others to establish the TeachMusic Coalition (TMC). The TMC has worked together over the past 24 months to develop plans and strategies to tackle the workforce shortage head-on. 

What is Causing the Music Educator Shortage?

We can point to a few items as contributors to the music educator workforce shortage:

– Fewer students are entering the education career field in general. According to data from the National Association of Schools of Music, there has been a 14% decline in music education graduates in the past decade. 

– Experienced teachers are leaving the profession at an accelerated rate following the pandemic. They are being replaced with a growing number of inexperienced or uncertified teachers. This trend disproportionately affects urban and rural schools, often impacting economically disadvantaged students.

– Lack of diversity of music educators. Nearly 93% of all music educators are white. The lack of diversity creates challenges for students who do not see themselves in the profession.

– Myths about reductions to school music and arts programs have fed into parent anxiety about paying for college for a major where there is a perception of a lack of job opportunities, which is completely untrue.

Further documenting the issue, the US Department of Education Teacher Shortage Area for 2023 reported 24 states and the District of Columbia (in red below) have identified music/arts education as a shortage area.

This shortage is occurring when there is a renaissance for music education in the United States! 

A Music Education Renaissance?

Yes! As a matter of fact, the United States is the most musically invested nation in the world.  Music education access (92%), participation (50%), programs, music product sales ($10 billion), and music consumption ($26 billion) are unparalleled among our nation’s peers and an envy amongst many of those peer nations. There are more than 140,000 music education positions in the United States.  

The value of music education has also increased, driven by its impact on student self-expression, mental health, and well-being. Music education provides the opportunity for students to work together in ensembles, building stronger, lasting peer to peer relationships, teaching how to collaborate and negotiate with others, and creating a sense of community which permeates not only the music classroom but the larger school culture. 

The value of music and arts education continues to be supported by parents, community members and voters, most recently in 2022 with the passage of Proposition 28 in California. Prop 28 will invest, on average, $1 billion in music and arts education, with 80% of the funding going to fund new teaching positions in California’s schools. 

In addition, the music education profession is undergoing many exciting changes. Music has a long and rich history; however, where student voice and choice are prevalent and where multiple cultures and communities are properly represented, new offerings are coming to life. The embracing of new and emerging technologies is giving rise to new music creation and performance methods. In addition to creating space for large and traditional ensembles to coexist with new forms of music making which aids in diversity of experiences and musical expression.

Why Music Education?

First, there are plenty of music education jobs available, with many of the leading collegiate music schools reporting near 100% placement rates for music education majors wishing to teach.

In addition, a recent satisfaction survey conducted by the NFHS focused on why music educators became music educators:

– To positively impact students’ lives.

– To pass on my love for music through education.

– To do something that gives me purpose.

– I was inspired/encouraged by a former teacher.

Many music educators in the same survey (76%) pointed out that part of their job satisfaction arose out of having a supportive teaching environment, led by their school administrator. Additionally, 75% of music teachers also stated they see part of their job as helping support the school’s overall mission and climate through their work, being a vital part of the success of the school.

But for many, teaching music is simply a calling–one of the most rewarding career paths today filled with infinite challenges and joy. 

More students need to be recruited into the music teaching profession, particularly students who reflect today’s students and their musical interests and ideas. The importance of music as part of a well-rounded education for our nation’s students cannot be overstated.

Bringing Solutions

After two years of preparation, the Music Educator Workforce Coalition launched a new resource for students, parents, and guidance counselors under the branding

The website has information, videos, resources, and solutions to support students who may be interested in pursuing a career in music education, support for parents to assist their students be successful, and materials and support for guidance counselors so they may be more effective in providing resources to students who wish to pursue a career in music.

The website supports three pathways to becoming a music educator:

1. A traditional undergraduate music education degree

2. Early recruitment of promising students interested in music education along with resources and support to assist them in becoming a music education major. 

3. Alternative Certification options for people with experience or other degrees who may wish to pursue music education

Taking Action

The creation of is just one tool in the MEWC toolkit. The group’s other actions include:

– Convening all stakeholders to discuss the issue and inspire the creation of innovative approaches to recruit and retain new and existing music educators.

– Working with the American School Counselor Association, Educator Rising, and other educational partners to provide opportunities and enhanced support for students pursuing music teaching as a career.

– Working with Post-secondary Education to review degree requirements to meet the needs of a modern music education system.

– Documenting the various individual state processes to enable individuals to acquire an alternative certification in music

– Highlighting innovative approaches to identifying, recruiting, and supporting students of color who show promise as future music educators. 

– Sponsoring/supporting recruitment sessions at conferences and events across the country. 

By taking a “collective impact” approach to this issue by leveraging the power of all the stakeholders in the music education community, we have a better chance to not only address the immediate short-term challenges facing the field, but we will also be able to address the long-term need to diversify the profession. 

An old adage says: The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time to plant a tree is today. Through the efforts of the TeachMusic Coalition we hope the seedlings we plant today will grow to create a strong, vibrant, and diverse music educator workforce for tomorrow.

Members of the TeachMusic Coalition include: American Choral Directors Association, American String Teachers Association, California Music Educators Association, CMA Foundation, College Band Directors National Association, Conn-Selmer, El Sistema USA, Florida Music Educators Association, Giles Communication, Hal Leonard Publishing, HBCU National Band and Orchestra Directors Consortium, HBCU Recruitment Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center, KHS, Minority Band Directors Association, Montclair State University, Music Educator Consultants, Music for All, NAMM Foundation, National Association for Music Education,, National Federation of State High School Associations, Oklahoma City University, Oklahoma Youth Orchestra, Quadrant Research, Save The Music Foundation, Temple University, Texas Arts Administrators Collective, The Music Man Foundation, TIME: Technology Institute for Music Educators, University of Alabama, University of Illinois, University of South Carolina, Yamaha, and West Music.

Reprinted with permission of the NFHS from the January 2024 issue of High School Today magazine.

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