Music Education’s Greatest Threat

Robert B. Morrison • April 2022UpClose • April 2, 2022

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. To invent the future, we need to understand what the threats are. The greatest threat to music and all of arts education is not testing, uninformed administrators, or budget cuts. Although they all remain threats of concern. 

The greatest threat to music and arts education, in my opinion, is… the teacher shortage.

The teacher shortage refers to the growing gap between music and arts educators entering the profession and those who may be leaving it. The teacher shortage in music and arts education has been created by two related contributing factors which are important to understand.

The Big Myth
For the better part of the last 20 years (going back to the passage of No Child Left Behind) there has been this perpetuated myth that music and arts education programs in the U.S. are disappearing. This myth appears in newspaper headlines, fundraising appeals, entertainment awards shows, and is repeated over and over to the point this myth becomes reality. 

Some examples:
“House committee passes budget with steep cuts.” Doesn’t include money for full-day pre-kindergarten, teacher incentive pay, arts education, and numerous other school programs. NBC5 Texas

“Florida legislation effectively eliminates music education.” Orlando Sentinel

“Arts education has been severely diminished in public education over the past 30 years.” Washington National Opera

“Arts instruction in schools is on a downward trend.” President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities

“Public school arts education is virtually dead.” Michael Kaiser, former president, Kennedy Center for the Arts

The fact is these statements are not true. To borrow a quote from Mark Twain “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” And so too have the reports of the death of music and arts education in the United States.

The Facts
In 20 states where comparable data is available through the National Arts Education Data Project measuring student course enrollment during the school day, over 80% of schools offer two or more arts disciplines, most frequently music and visual art. Not 0%. Not 50%. Eighty percent!

I am not dismissing the importance of those with fewer disciplines or none. However, this is a long way from “arts programs are disappearing.” In fact, 91% of schools offer some courses in an arts discipline during the school day for credit and grade. This represents 96% of all students. Now, where I come from 96% of students having access to arts instruction is not zero. This is not “virtually dead.”

When we look at arts participation rates, we see…

88% elementary, 65% middle, 47% high, and 58% in mixed grades school students participate in the arts in school. The national participation rate for these states is 66%. Facts.

Despite these facts, The Big Myth has now become the “go to” story in the media whenever there is a program change or reduction or threat to modify a program. And many articles will include this statement: “The arts are the first to be cut.” Really? Go ask our colleagues in the world languages. 

I have spent time debunking the big myth because it is a major contributor to our teacher shortage crisis. What happens because of The Big Myth being perpetuated?

If you are the parent of child who comes home and says, “I want to be a music teacher!” the response is “Don’t you know they are cutting programs?” Parents have been subjected to the same big myth discussed above. Why would I, as a parent, ever spend hard earned money, save for college, or encourage my son or daughter to take on tuition debt for a career path that according to the media is rapidly disappearing? Or how about the school guidance counselors who say “there is no real vocation as a music teacher. Don’t you know they are eliminating many programs?” The result of the perpetuation of the Big Myth is parents and counselors are “guiding” students away from a career as a music or arts educator.  

The reality is: 
Music education remains a strong presence in public education. There are lots of jobs. 

In fact, in an unscientific informal poll I did of the deans from several university schools of music, I learned this:

The percentage of students who study music education and WANT to go into teaching and get jobs = 100%

Now, if I am a parent and my son/daughter were to come to me and said they planned on going to college, major in a degree program that had 100% placement rate… I would be all in! 

But the false narrative of the Big Myth about music programs being cut has depressed student enrollment in collegiate music education programs. When this is combined with the increasing numbers of retirements from the profession… “Houston, we have a problem.”

 How Do We Know There is a Teacher Shortage?
US DOE Teacher Shortage Area reported 29 states have identified music/arts education as a shortage area. This was before the pandemic.

Additionally, a Texas arts administrator shared the following note with me:

“The teacher shortage we have now is impacting everything.  When there is no teacher and no substitute, all those students are being split up and added to other fine arts classes from different programs of study.  This challenge becomes exponential in nature as this daily grind burns through that teacher covering two classes at once (art and music).  This teacher now leaves the profession mid-semester and now we have two classes that need to be split.  This isn’t fiction, I can share several schools in my district where this is happening today.”

Finally, the National Education Association (NEA) along with RAND recently did a study of teachers in the workforce to determine how many educators may be leaving the profession. The NEA projects as many as one in four may leave the workforce. 

The Music Educator Pipeline
What does the pipeline look like for music educators? Based on data from the Higher Education Arts Data Services (HEADS) Music Data Summaries from the 2010 and the 2020 school years, here is what we know:

Between 2010 and 2020 there was a 14% decline in matriculating undergraduate music education majors. (4487 – 3848)

Now… based on these projections let’s extrapolate this for music education

There are approximately 120,000 public school music educators

If 25% leave = 30,000 music educators

Let’s dial that number back for a more conservative estimate:

120,000 music educators x 5% attrition = 6,000 music educators leaving

Remember, the number of music education major graduates in 20202 2020 = 3,848

So, our calculation would be 6,000 leave minus 3,848 graduates = 2,152 music educator shortfall. 

This is a math problem. More people are leaving the profession than we are preparing to enter the profession.

And until we rebalance this equation the music education sector will be in danger.

SBO editor Tom Palmatier wrote an excellent article regarding the imbalance of music education to performance majors in our universities which is also a contributing factor

To address the math problem, we need better messaging, and we must do a better job of recruiting. 

Recruiting Future Music Educators
We are largely failing to identify students early who may be candidates to become music educators and provide them with the proper support and training to successfully enter the education field. This is particularly true of our students from differing backgrounds and economic statuses. It is no secret that most music educators are white. 

This must change, but it is part of the same problem. Not only do we need to recruit more music educators, but we also need to recruit a much more diverse pool of potential music educators. This is not something that will be solved overnight. This is a change that will take a decade or more. But to begin to make a change, we must start now. 

Fortunately, there are a few models to begin to look to. 

Several states have started their own Future Music Teacher initiatives with the goal of trying to identify, attract, and support a diverse pool of future music educators to the field. 

Universities are also starting to get into the game. Here is just one example:

Cali Pathways Project
The John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University, under the direction of Anthony J. Mazzocchi, has created the Cali Pathways Project. The Project aims to create dynamic and comprehensive pathways to higher education and careers in music by targeting talented student musicians from under-represented backgrounds and assist them in breaking down the barriers that may otherwise preclude them from achieving their full musical potential.

Through the generosity of donors, the Cali School ensures these students have the educational and musical resources to advance their goals including: Acquisition of a musical instrument, Private instruction, Master classes and workshops, Mentoring, Tuition aid to summer camps, On-campus activities at MSU, Travel expenses to and from instruction. Successful students will even receive full tuition remission to the Cali School of Music as a music education major.

I recognize there are other great projects at other institutions. But we need more.

A Pathway Forward

To be successful we need to develop a broad-based strategy for the field to:

Change the narrative (strength versus weakness)

Parents/counselors need to be educated (jobs, jobs, jobs)

Flip the entering/leaving numbers (More entering than leaving)

Diversify our educator pool

Recognizing the critical nature of this issue on the future of music education, a national coalition of organizations has been convening and growing to address this crisis. It is clear no single entity or organization can solve this problem. A meeting will be convened at the 2022 NAMM Show in Anaheim in early June, following a spring of virtual discussions, to gather consensus on how we can collaborate on the greatest challenge of our time. Save the date and make plans to join your NAMM colleagues for this important conversation with a panel of national education leaders covering the current state of play and advocacy for music and arts education. Learn more at:

And you can help! If you have any ideas or model programs, you wish to share please go to to share your information and we will share it with the group.

We all have a stake in this, and we all must work together to change the trajectory so we can provide an education that includes music for ALL students across the nation. 

That is how we will invent our future.

Dr. Bob Morrison is founder/CEO of Quadrant Research and was founder of the Music for All Foundation. 

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