Nearly 9 in 10 Music Teacher Candidates Are White, Research Shows

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — December 17, 2015 3 min read
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The public school student population is increasingly diverse. Their prospective music teachers? Not so much.

The first large-scale study of the demographic profiles of prospective music teachers indicates that the overwhelming majority of music teacher licensure candidates are white.

Kenneth Elpus, an assistant professor of music education at the University of Maryland, said he was prompted to look into the diversity of music teacher licensure candidates after investigating the demographics of students who had studied music in high school and participated in college ensembles. He wondered how many of those students became music teachers.

To explore the demographics of prospective music education majors, Elpus used data from the ETS for two music content-area Praxis exams, which are required for music teacher licensure in 32 states. The study uses data from 2008-2012. Most, but not all, of the test takers were undergraduates while taking the test.

He found that 86 percent of the test-takers identified as white. Just 7 percent were black. Less than 2 percent were Hispanic and less than 2 percent were Asian. Less than 1 percent identified as Native American/Alaska Native, Pacific Islander, or Multiracial. Ninety-five percent reported that English was their native language.

The overall population of the U.S. in 2012 was 66 percent white, 12 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic, and 5 percent Asian. A greater share of teachers were white in 2011-12 — 82 percent — but that’s still a smaller share than the music teacher licensure candidates.

Elpus also compared the music teacher licensure candidates to a pool of people more likely to become music teachers: Students who studied music for four years in high school, whom Elpus describes as “the potential pool from which future postsecondary music majors are drawn,” and undergraduates enrolled in degree-granting institutions. Music licensure candidates were significantly more likely to be white than both of these groups.

This study didn’t delve into the reasons that so many music majors are white.

Elpus said he suspects that one explanation might be the core music training expected of potential teachers. At many schools, music education majors undergo the same screenings as music performance majors. “So at bare minimum, you have to have studied privately,” Elpus said.

Private lessons are expensive, which means there could be socioeconomic barriers to entry. And, since race and socioeconomic status are often linked, the low rates of non-white music education majors could be tied to low rates of access to private lessons.

Access to quality music programs in public schools also varies from school to school and district to district.

The Diamondback, University of Maryland’s student newspaper, interviewed several music education majors about the findings. One suggested that family pressures might lead some non-white students away from careers in music.

Elpus said that having a more diverse music teacher force would likely benefit students. “This is a disciplinary view, but we know that having role models that look like the students they are teaching is a net positive,” Elpus said. “If you’re attending a school where all the music teachers don’t look like you, you might not think it’s as possible to engage with music as a career choice.”

Elpus also examined scores on the Praxis exams. He found that male test-takers scored better than their female peers and that white students scored better than their black peers. The paper calls for more study into the causes of those gaps.

Image via Photo Phiend/Flickr Creative Commons

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.