Thinking Beyond Teacher Demand and Attrition:

Are We Recruiting the “Best and Brightest” to Music Education?


James R. Austin

University of Colorado at Boulder




In an editorial within the Spring 1999 issue of the Journal of Music Teacher Education, Edward Asmus states that “The demand for music teachers is at an all-time high, while the number of students entering music teacher training programs is declining.” Asmus posits that while support for music education is as strong as it has ever been, fewer would-be music teachers are opting into music education programs. There are several factors that might be turning students away from careers in music teaching, including the salary differential that exists between teaching and other professional career choices, negative images of teachers and schooling that pervade the media, a perception that music performers have more occupational status and rewards than music teachers, and the belief that music education degree programs are just too difficult or take too much time.

Traditionally, policy analysts within the music education community have responded to the teacher shortage by promoting strategies designed to increase the supply of new teachers entering the field. Alternatively, concerns about early-career music teacher attrition have led to an increased emphasis on teacher induction and mentoring programs. Efforts to promote the profession to prospective educators and to mentor inservice teachers at risk of leaving the profession are certainly worthwhile. But both of these “teacher shortage solutions” tend to be reactive in nature, and neither directly addresses the question of quality – the quality of individuals applying to undergraduate music education programs and the quality of the programs designed to prepare these individuals for careers as music teachers.

My premise is that unless music teacher educators are able to proactively recruit a critical mass of high quality applicants to music education programs, and then provide them with challenging learning experiences once they enter those programs, there will be no net improvement in the quality of music teaching within the field, no decrease in teacher attrition rates, and no discernable progress made with respect to solving the music teacher shortage.

I believe we need to recommit to the principle of recruiting “the best and brightest” into music education degree programs – individuals who are intellectually curious, who are strong musicians, who possess an intuitive knack for connecting with kids and connecting kids to music, and who are reflective by nature. In turn, we must also challenge these students to bridge theory-practice gaps, reconcile idealized images of teaching and real-world experiences, and anticipate other professional hurdles that so often derail an otherwise promising career.

In this paper, I will focus on the issue of recruiting and admitting quality music education applicants by referencing two streams of research: (1) pre-collegiate (cadet) teaching programs and how they influence high school students’ interest in and preparation for majoring in music education; and (2) music education program admission processes and the degree to which admission criteria (academic profile, music education interview, and audition) are associated with music education student achievement and degree program continuation/completion.