This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

The Role of the Music Administrator in Public School Systems of the Southeastern United States: A Mixed Methods Study




Ferrell, Christopher

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Curriculum and Teaching


The position of the system-level music administrator is an important component in the successful district-wide school music program. Curriculum supervision has been in place in various forms since the beginning of public education in the United States (Banse, 1951). There is a large and established body of research centered on general educational leadership and curriculum supervision in non-arts subjects. Relatively few studies have focused on the public school music administrator and their role and impact on school districts' district-wide music programs. In the early history of education, music administrators were prevalent in many school systems throughout the United States. During that latter half of the 20th century and into the first decade of the 21st century, music administrators at the district level were employed at a deceasing rate by school systems in many areas of the country (Banse, 1951; Earnhart, 2015; Mark et al., 2007; Porter, 1994). Recent educational law changes have increased support for non-tested subjects, including music, and may spur additional music and arts administrators' employment in more school systems. This mixed-methods study investigated the role, experiences, impact, and perceptions of the current and former music administrators in the southeastern United States' public school systems in 2 phases. In Phase 1, I conducted an electronic directory search of 1,630 public and charter school districts in the 11 states of the Southern division of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) to ascertain if an individual administrator was responsible for music programs at the district level. Position titles and areas of responsibility were documented and helped inform participants' selection for the second phase. Phase 2 consisted of in-depth, open-ended interviews with nine current or recently-retired music administrators from a portion of the 11 states included in the study. The analysis of the findings involved developing an in-depth exploration of the participants' background and impressions and searching for emergent themes to understand the connections and commonalities of these individuals' experiences. The Phase 1 electronic survey indicated that most school districts did not employ an arts administrator at the district level. Of the 1,630 school districts surveyed, only 7.6% (n=124) employed a designated full-time arts administrator. Of the 124 arts administrators, 0.9% (n=24) were listed as music-only administrators. The remainder of the school districts either employed a generalist responsible for all academic disciplines, or no curriculum supervisor was found. The findings in Phase 2 included the development of themes centered around extensive teaching and career experiences, a desire to help music educators and positively influence the profession, overcoming challenges, expressing the benefits of job-specific training, and their impressions of the future of music education and arts administration in the public schools. Practicing music administrators had extensive teaching experience as well as a deep desire to help their profession. The participants expressed great satisfaction with their role and their positive impact regardless of the challenges faced. A need for training – whether as a component of a certification or degree program or from within the employing school district – was expressed by most participants. The administrators all expressed a great deal of optimism regarding the future of music education and growing support for music administrators in more school systems. Recommendations for further research in music administration could include further examination and clarification of job responsibilities and the development of standardized training and professional development and support opportunities for music administrators. In addition, finding ways to increase the influence and decision-making impact of the position, developing connections and cooperation with other curricular disciplines and other administrators, and comparing music program quality in districts with a music administrator versus those without.