Edinboro University’s Decision to Cut Music Education Not Smart in Today’s Job Climate

Mark Despotakis

Director of Market Development, Progressive Music
Advocacy Chair, Pennsylvania Music Educators Association

In response to articles on Goerie.com and in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, we offer the following response to to proposal to disolve the music education program at Edinboro University.

Disturbing news came out of Edinboro Univeristy last month.  The school plans to phase out their music education program.  Edinboro has graduated some of Pennsylvania’s finest music educators over the years and a suggestion that there is a lack of jobs for current graduates leaves a question about the conclusion to disband the program.

First, some background on where we are when it comes to music education in our current economic and political climate.

We find ourselves in the midst of a sea-change in K-12 education policy and practice.  In December of 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law.  The law is a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, most recently known as No Child Left Behind.  It took nearly a decade to get ESSA as the law of the land.  It took input from stakeholders from every corner of the education world.  And now that the law is in place, states are working to implement the law.  Pennsylvania spent over a year working on a plan that was released in August.  The plan now awaits federal approval before implementation starts.

Like the federal government, Pennsylvania sought feedback from many areas of the education world.  A tour around the state earlier this year explained what the Pennsylvania plan would do and the public was able to provide input at many stages of the plan’s journey to its completion.

We won’t explain all the parts of ESSA here (after all the federal plan is over 1,000 pages and the state plan is over 100) but we use the story of ESSA to illustrate the importance of K-12 education and the importance of getting it right.  Lots of voices have debated, provided input and been heard to come up with the plan we know today as ESSA.  Why?  Because, it’s clear education is important.  It’s clear a strong K-12 education is important to our society and it’s clear many people care enough about that to lobby and advocate for many of the changes made as we moved from No Child Left Behind to the Every Student Succeeds Act.

One of the changes of particular importance in ESSA is the move from the term “core academic subjects” to “well-rounded education.”  That change signifies that we need to prepare students for an ever-changing world as they enter the work force as well as prepare them to become an active member of society and culture.  In creating the “well-rounded” term, Congress did another important thing, among 17 subjects listed under this banner, one sticks out to us – music.

By naming music as a well-rounded subject, Congress reminds us of what we already know: 1) every child should have access to a complete education that includes music and 2) in order to become a well-rounded citizen, students should participate in some form of music education.

This is all good news for the music education community which is why we’re surprised and concerned to hear that Edinboro University plans to phase out their music education degree.  As we move into the ESSA era for education, we anticipate there will be a greater demand for music education in our K-12 schools.  Not only through language in federal and state law, but also with dollars that follow the law, schools will have the chance to enhance their well-rounded offerings and that will include music.  The demand for highly-qualified music educators will be greater than ever.

In addition, schools across Pennsylvania are facing a teacher shortage. And beyond that, they’re facing a substitute teacher shortage.  It’s a hidden fact, but all across Pennsylvania, there just aren’t enough teachers.  In many schools, teachers are pulled to cover other classes when another teacher is absent for the day.  This tends to adversely affect music, arts, computer science and physical education teachers.

The problem of teachers being pulled from their subject area to cover classes in another subject area is concerning on its own.  But, it serves to illustrate a very important point.  The teaching profession is in need of qualified teachers graduating from colleges and universities.

Some have argued that shuttering the music education program at Edinboro University is necessary because there aren’t teaching jobs available.  That simply isn’t the case.  Between the 2012-2013 school years and the 2014-2015 school years, the Pennsylvania Department of Education saw a 62 percent drop in Pennsylvania residents seeking teacher certifications — from 16,361 to 6,215.  School officials routinely report how difficult it is to find candidates to fill full-time teaching positions and substitute positions.

And while that might be anecdotal for the state of Pennsylvania, we have documented need for music educators in 20 states in the country through the subject area statewide shortage list maintained by the U.S. Department of Education in order to determine student loan forgiveness eligibility. That list includes several states right next to PA – Ohio, Maryland, and Delaware – where music education students could find employment immediately due to systematic documented teacher shortages. 

Here is a full list of states with documented music teacher shortages in 2016/2017:
New Hampshire
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

In short, let me make this clear: if you have your music education license and you are willing to move for a job, THERE IS A JOB FOR YOU IN THE UNITED STATES. 20 states currently have documented teacher shortages and we sense Pennsylvania isn’t far off from being added to the list – so you may also get some of your student loans forgiven.  For how many other undergraduate degrees can you make that claim – unequivocally? While we as a country like to joke about “the starving, unemployed artist” that is not the case for music educators. The jobs are there. The number of jobs is projected to grow. And this is a wonderful profession to join – to bring music into the lives of children and help them embrace their creativity, their expressive joy, and engage with their fellow students, school and community.