The results of Kenneth Elpus’ latest research, published in the Journal of Research in Music Education, on racial inequity in music education may surprise you—racial and ethnic minorities are significantly underrepresented among music teacher licensure candidates, where 86 percent of the candidates identified as White, 7 percent Black, 2 percent Hispanic or Asian, and less than 1 percent were Native American/Alaska Native, Pacific Islander, or Multiracial.
The outcome of Elpus’ research is critical for identifying and addressing music education’s diversity problem.
“Many music educators have been concerned about what they see as the homogeneity of the teacher workforce for a while, but didn’t have the hard data to back their observations,” says Elpus. “If we don’t document the diversity problem, then no one will talk about it.”
Beyond the need for systematic changes to music teacher recruitment, Elpus calls for incumbent music teachers to improve their cross-cultural competency. Without sensitivity to the diverse cultural viewpoints in their classrooms, music educators will struggle to foster the important student-teacher connection that ultimately inspires the student to pursue a career in music education.
Increased cultural competency can also help music educators understand the cultural elements that could deter underrepresented minority students from majoring in music education.
Elpus says, “We need to teach K-12 teachers how to identify diverse students who might excel as a music education major, and how to help those students have a conversation about a music educator’s career path with their parents.”
Elpus’ next study on this topic will examine if the Praxis II music exam - a required test for music teacher candidates - is systematically excluding minority music majors from earning their license.
Through all of his demographic research, Elpus hopes to spark public conversation about how the music teacher recruitment and licensure process might be unfair, and ultimately prompt music education policymakers to reevaluate the process.
Elpus is assistant professor in the University of Maryland’s School of Music.