Improving Music Education for Hispanic Students

Improving Music Education for Hispanic Students

National Hispanic Heritage month recognizes the great contributions made by Hispanic Americans to the United States, as well as Celebrating an amazing culture and heritage.

Today, 55 million people (17 percent of the American population) are of Hispanic origin. This represents a significant increase from the 2000 census which registered the population at 35 million (13 percent of the American population). According to the US census Bureau, there will be 119 million people of Hispanic descent, representing 28.6 percent of the US population, by 2060. 

Hispanic heritage is, and will continue to be, part of the backbone of our country. But how have we done in providing Hispanic students with equal opportunity for a quality education—and specifically with regards to music education? | monkeybusinessimages

Hispanic communities face educational issues similar to other minority groups, including the need for adequate funding for schools serving minority and disadvantaged students, as well as other issues with a special impact on the community. In some areas, Hispanic Americans have closed the education gap. In 2011, only 14 percent of Hispanic Americans 16- to 24-year-olds were high school dropouts. That is half of the 28 percent level of 2000.  However, almost 80 percent of English Language Learners (ELL) are of Hispanic heritage. This impacts a quarter of Hispanic elementary students that are still not proficient in reading. In some states, Hispanic students more than three grade levels behind their peers.  

The gap with access to music and arts education is also wide. Only 26 percent of Hispanics ages 18-24 surveyed in 2008 received a music and arts education compared to 59 percent of whites. This falls well short of the intent of federal education law that has worked in tandem with the Civil Rights Act to create equality in education for all students.

Fully Fund ESSA to Create Music By All

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ESSA’s definition of music as a “well-rounded subject” should at least give music education more viability in urban or rural areas that struggle to provide it. Beyond that, Congress should fulfill its’ authorizing obligations to ESSA by appropriating full funding for Title I, Title II and Title IV

Additionally, if we are truly committed to providing greater access to Hispanic students, we must have accurate data on the issue.  To this end, NAfME has recommended that the Department of Education (ED) add access and participation rates in music and the arts to the data collection and reporting collected by ED. Any serious future policy initiatives must be driven by solid data on the issue. 

Curriculum Diversity and the Higher Education Act 

Music curricula must also adapt to our diverse cultures. Today, curricula based on Western classical music tends to dominate music education, both in K-12 and higher education. Of course, it is critical that students continue to receive a music education in this area;band, orchestra, and choir will always be an important component of music education. However, a curriculum solely based on Western methodology can isolate minority students, making it harder for them to learn. For example, studies conducted by Carlos Abril and Kenneth Elpus found that 66 percent of ensemble students were white and only 10 percent were Hispanic. Students for whom English was not their native language only accounted for 9.6 percent of ensemble members.  

We also must examine the lack diversity of music educators. According to research by Elpus, 86 percent of music teachers are white. Diverse experiences from a diverse group of music educators will provide students with a more culturally well-rounded education.  

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are hopeful for Higher Education Act Reauthorization next year. This could be an important opportunity to instill some change in the Higher Ed world with a significant impact for K-12 education. NAfME has developed a list of proposals with the hopes of diversifying curricula and encouraging more music educators to teach in disadvantaged areas. Proposals include funding for pilot programs at Institutions of Higher Learning that encourage music education pre-service programs to expand the diversity of music. Additionally, NAfME will push for student loan forgiveness for music educators teaching in disadvantaged areas, putting them on par with math and science teachers who currently receive such benefits. 

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by Teaching Music 

What are you doing to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month? Click here for a list of resources to assist in your planning for music education during Hispanic Heritage month. 

Tooshar Swain, Policy Advisor, Center for Advocacy, Policy, and Constituency Engagement, September 26, 2016. © National Association for Music Education (