Perspective: The Biggest Challenges Facing Music Ed

Mike Lawson • Commentary • October 18, 2014

Share This:

In a recent blog post, the Oxford University Press asked a handful of notable college educators about the most important issues facing music education today. This question is also a common feature in the conversations that form this publication’s cover stories: after all, how better to explore critical survival strategies than to examine a program’s greatest challenges? As educators discuss the evolutions of their programs and the impediments they face, it helps to both present a mosaic of the broader state of music education, as well as illuminate particular and often unique challenges confronting school music programs and their directors.

The answers, like the programs themselves and the personalities of the people that run them, are widely varied.

In SBO’s May 2014 issue, Bill Allred of Clovis, New Mexico cites as his biggest challenges private lessons and overcoming the isolation that comes with being in a rural area. In the March 2014 issue, Jim Sammons and Page Howell note those same concerns for their program in Vero Beach, Florida. Karina Lindsey of Plano, Texas also mentions private lessons in SBO’s February 2014 issue, as well as challenges related to retention in the face of the many other activities available for students in her school.

Others have noted growth-related challenges, such as finding resources so as to not have to turn away any students who express interest in participating in the music department’s offerings. And then there are the more personal challenges of keeping up with what can become burdensome bureaucracy within a public school system, which, along with the long hours and many non-musical responsibilities of running a band organization, can lead to burnout.


However, the OUP’s post on this subject focuses on broader topics:

  • Dr. William Bauer of the University of Florida says, “It is important that music teachers remain strong, articulate advocates for the value of music in the complete education of children, and to not resort to superficial reasons for music’s inclusion in school curricula.”
  • Colleen Conway of the University of Michigan cites student access to quality music instruction, by qualified instructors, as the most pressing issue.
  • Jay Dorfman of Boston University boils his concerns down to the challenges relating to accurate quantification of the work done in music classes – in a word, “assessment.”
  • U-Mass Lowell professor Gena Grehar takes a different tack on assessment, notng the need for a “learner-centered music education” that can “foster creative thinking and divergent outcomes.”
  • And finally, Graham Welch of the University of London points to the overall “lack of understanding shown by policy makers” regarding the lifelong impact of music education on children and young people.


All of this brings to mind the “serenity prayer” – a plea for the ability to accept the things one cannot change, the courage to change the things one can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Of course, it’s also critical to remember the other side of the coin, as well. When asked about what keeps him going even in his 42nd year teaching music, George Hattendorf, the UpClose subject featured in the October 2014 issue, replies succinctly: “The kids and my passion for music.”

What are the biggest challenges you and your program are facing? Share your thoughts in the comment section below, or via Twitter (@sbomagazine), Facebook, or with me directly via email. Join in the conversation!



The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!