On September 27th, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB916 TADA! (The Theatre and Dance Act of 2016), legislation mandating that California public school K-12 students be provided theatre and dance education taught by credentialed theatre and dance teachers.
Though California has credentials for music and visual art teachers, it has been the only state besides West Virginia without credentials for theatre or dance teachers.
Dance and theatre, when taught at all, have been taught by teachers credentialed in English for theatre education, and in PE for dance education, or by teaching artists with many years of learning in their art form but without teaching credentials.
Teaching artists have provided theatre and dance education, as well as visual arts and music, for thousands of students during the school day and in afterschool programs for many decades.
So how will all that change with this new legislation? Currently, we know much more about what it means for artists who want to be credentialed than we know about how independent teaching artists will be able to participate in public school arts education after the credentials are in force.
What is the process for implementing the credentials?
The first step will be an update and revision of the current California Visual and Performing Arts Standards as stipulated by another bill also signed by the governor this fall. The revision is due to the State Board of Education by Jan. 31, 2018.
Once that revision is completed, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing will establish an expert panel to define the content for exams for both credentials based on the revised Standards, develop and test the exam questions, and set the passing scores for the exams.
How long will the establishment of the credentials take?
The revision of the VAPA Standards takes about 18 months, followed by another 18 months for development of the content and exam questions. So it will take about 2 ½ – 3 years to establish the credentials.
More time will be needed for universities and colleges to develop education programs that reflect the required content and to recruit and move students through the programs.
How will theatre and dance be taught in the intervening years?
The new bill states that current dance and theatre teachers are “grandfathered” and can continue teaching with their current credentials (primarily English or PE).
Once the theatre or dance credential exists, a teacher holding any other teaching credential in any subject will be able to take the Dance or Theatre CSET exam to add it to their record.
How will teaching artists fit into the mix?
In the intervening years, it will be up to the local school districts to decide whether and how to use teaching artists.
We know little about whether schools will seek out teaching artists once there are sufficient credentialed arts teachers to meet their needs. School districts might proceed in the way one arts director in a Sacramento school district recently described:
She would still be seeking teaching artists for their schools, even after they have hired enough arts specialists for every school.
In her experience, working artists bring a level of understanding of the art form and inspiration for students that can’t be matched by teachers who are not primarily active artists.
She feels teaching artists can provide deeper, more advanced arts experiences to students once they have been taught the fundamentals that school arts specialists will provide.
However schools decide to handle in-school arts education, they will most likely still be looking for teaching artists for afterschool arts programming.
And many schools continue to look for ways to meaningfully assess which teaching artists possess the skills and experience that will best serve their students.
Valerie Gutwirth teaching at John Muir School in BUSD
How can teaching artists best prepare themselves for what comes next?
Stay informed as the credentials and standards are developed. Become familiar with the revised VAPA Standards once they are available, so you’ll know what schools districts will be held accountable for.
Participate in TASC events across the state as we gather to listen to each other to decide what kinds of programs and professional development we need to develop to hone our skills, and how best to document those skills so they communicate the full value of what we bring as teaching artists to schools and other community settings.
The passage of this legislation indicates that the arts are increasingly seen as an essential part of student education and that the state cares how they are being taught.
Teaching artists hold an important piece of the picture, especially if we continue to work together to strengthen our voice, our skills and our role in the education of children and youth in our communities. I look forward to continuing the conversation with you at a TASC event this winter.