Recently, Kathy Lynch, the Alliance’s legislative advocate, and I met with the California State Commission on Teacher Credentialing. After taking input from professional dance and theatre instructors from across California, we wanted to make the case for separate credentialing of dance and theatre instructors. Why? Because until we treat all four arts disciplines – visual art, music, theatre, and dance – as distinctive disciplines with their own methods and modes of learning, California students are missing out on the full benefits of arts learning under the guidance of professional, highly qualified instructors.
Ever since around 1970, there has been no single subject credentialing for dance and theatre teachers in California. The impact has been that while 88% of secondary music teachers and 84% of visual arts teachers meet the standards for being “highly qualified” in their respective fields, only 36% of dance teachers and 55% of theatre teachers are similarly qualified.
The Alliance often frames our goals in terms of quality, equity and access to arts education. The debate over teacher credentialing goes to the heart of what we mean when we talk about access. Without professional credentials in these two arts disciplines, fewer teachers pursue the fields of dance and theatre. Many talented prospective teachers have left the state to acquire necessary training in their field, or abandoned that career path altogether rather than take on the burdensome and extraneous requirements of English or physical education credentialing.
In other states, the establishment of theatre and dance credentials has increased the demand for such credentials, the number of students pursuing arts education, the quality of instruction and the demand for such classes in schools (this according to the Senate Office of Research). Moreover, federal law (“No Child Left Behind”) requires that visual and performing arts be taught by “highly qualified teachers”. For all of these reasons, California must consider establishing single subject credentials in theatre and dance.
While we fully recognize the economic challenges our state currently faces, we believe the time has come to begin the process that will lead to the establishment of single subject credentials in the subjects of theatre and dance. At the national level, these credentials would meet the requirement of highly qualified teachers in all core subject areas, including the arts. At the state level, the credentials would deliver on our own established state policies and standards.
But perhaps most important: the establishment of these credentials would help enable California’s students to receive the full benefit of quality theatre and dance education.
The Alliance will continue to work with other education partners in the months ahead to build consensus through collaboration around this issue, and complete the promise of bringing complete standards-based education to all California students.