Theatre & Dance Credentialing: The Time is Now

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.

9 Responses to “Theatre & Dance Credentialing: The Time is Now”

Michael Hudson-Medina Says:
October 8, 2009

Keep up the great work!

Dr. Jatila van der Veen Says:
October 8, 2009

It makes sense that the credentialing commission would insist that dance and theater majors be linkied to credentialing programs, but this would be EASY to do in California. Many of the UC campuses have excellent dance and theater programs. UCSB, where I work (in the physics department) has an outstanding dance major program, offering BA, BFAs, and MFAs.

I don’t know if California actually has State Standards for Dance, but other states do, so it would be EASY to use another state’s standards, craft a set of state standards for dance and theater for California, and then tie the dance and theater major programs to the credential programs offered in the Schools of Education on UC campuses where there are dance programs…such as UCSB, UCLA, UC Riverside, UC Irvine, and other schools such as Stanford, which has a HUGE dance program, including ethnic dance.

Then – voila! In a year you have a prospectus to hand to Sacramento that links dance major programs to teacher credentialing programs on campuses where both are offered, and they are tied to state standards, and also the arts standards can be linked to and integrated with the core academic standards in each discipline! I know that such work has been started already in many places.

The positive benefits of setting this up are not just to the kids currently in the K-12 schools, but to the college students in the dance major programs! There is no component that I’m aware of at this time at UCSB, in the dance major, which prepares students to be dance TEACHERS. They are prepared for careers in performance, with some options for arts management, and a PhD in Theater which is research-oriented. But, as we ALL know, jobs in performing are hard to get, and even if one has a performing job after graduation, they are hard to keep, and most don’t pay enough to raise a family on! So, an option to minor in education and perhaps stay on one more year to get a credential could be an excellent option for college majors in a UC dance program!

I would love to work at the state level on such a project.

Thank you,
Jatila van der Veen, Ph.D.
Education Coordinator for the Planck Mission, NASA
Department of Physics, UC Santa Barbara

Karen Childress-Evans Says:
October 9, 2009

Yes, indeed, California has dance and theatre standards found in the Visual and Performing Arts Framework for California Public School, Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve. I believe post secondary institutions use these standards (or they should) as a foundation for their curriculum. I believe the concerns are multi-faceted: 1) the concern that there are universities and colleges wanting this sort of credential and 2) there are school districts in California who are willing to hire these credentialed teachers.

SDUSD is desperate for qualified dance and theatre teachers. My colleagues and I would love to also be a part of a state effort to, finally after all these years, give credibility to these arts disciplines. Please keep me posted.

Karen Childress-Evans, Ed.S.
VAPA Director
San diego Unified School District

Karen Childress-Evans Says:
October 8, 2009

As Director of Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) for San Diego Unified School District, the second largest school district in the state, I can say with certainty that there is a growing demand for credentialed dance and theatre teachers and that those teachers with PE and English credentials are doing a disservice to our students.

Currently, PE teachers with little dance experience or education are being placed at school sites (including our magnet schools). Sites wanting theatre are placing inexperienced English teachers in these positions causing much confusion and angst at the expense of the students. Dance, in these situations, is more likely to become a series of steps and dances rather than the comprehensive, sequential, grade-level-learning of movement, space and expression. Theatre becomes a series of activities, skits and awkward performances rather than the depth of learning and skill acquisition called out in the State standards and framework. Teachers become frustrated and students suffer the consequences.

Our VAPA department is eager to support all district VAPA teachers. But is difficult to support programs where teachers were placed simply because of the credential held rather than the proficiency or knowledge of the subject. It is heartbreaking when we expend energy to support teachers who are unwilling to provide the instruction expected because the assignment was “dumped” on them the day before class. Again, the teachers become angry and the students suffer the consequences.

There is nothing in the two non-credential arts disciplines for dance and theatre students who wish to receive AP credit for advanced classes. This AP opportunity is only available in the credentialed arts disciplines: music and visual art. Once again, the students suffer the consequences.

Finally, due to the hard work and dedication of the VAPA dance and theatre resource teachers in our department and the short-lived Arts Block grant funding from the state, dance and theatre instruction is growing by leaps and bounds. All classroom teachers K-2 in 15 of our district elementary schools have received grant funding for training on how to effectively provide standards-based instruction in both dance and theatre along with integration strategies. Many more sites have paid for their teachers to be trained in dance and theatre. The interest and demand is out there. Where are the trained teachers to fill in these gaps?

Our students deserve more than “accidental teachers” (term created by our theatre resource teacher) in the selection of VAPA courses. There are not enough resources (curriculum guides, instructional strategies, or resource teachers) available to assist every district struggling dance and theatre teacher or to repair the damage done by these inexperienced teachers. On-the-job is not the place to train these non-credentialed teachers. My department and I are available to support this movement and stand ready to do whatever it takes to get our students the quality instructors they deserve. We have many challenges on our plates right now and for this one, I say, “Bring it on!” Karen Childress-Evans, VAPA Director, SDUSD

patricia reedy Says:
October 22, 2009 Is there really no ‘market’ for dance or is it simply that we’ve gotten so far away from having dance education taught by highly qualified instructors that few principals, administrators, teachers, parents and even dancers themselves understand or can imagine what dance education is and can be?

As Director of Teaching & Learning at Luna Kids Dance, I work with people with the widest range of professional titles, experience and backgrounds in dance–all wanting to improve their teaching practice, build dance programs in their communities and critically examine the role dance plays in society. We work with all who teach because dance learning occurs in many different settings. At the same time, a California dance teaching credential is essential because public schools allow access to learning for ALL students and as an issue of equity dance must be taught in schools by highly qualified, credentialed dance teachers.

The dilemmas discussed above are all too familiar: 1-through various grants, we’ve worked with schools to build a culture for dance learning through initial investments in demonstration. As schools become convinced of the power of dance to student learning and come to understand that standards-based sequential learning is what they want in a dance program, they become disappointed when they cannot hire a credentialed teacher. 2-we also work with dance teachers who are incredibly qualified. after a career performing and choreographing, they may hold a BFA or MFA then “jump through all the hoops” to get the P.E. credential. They continue to study with colleagues and peers at conferences and seminars. After more than a decade of teaching, when a new principal is hired who does not value dance, they are re-assigned to teaching aquatics. These teachers become angry and disillusioned and some leave the field. A credential in dance would support the intention of the VAPA standards in a concrete way. 3-because there is no credential in dance, many college and university dance departments have dropped their pedagogy classes yet their students know and believe they will teach dance as part of their careers. This creates another problem: as we graduate BFA and MFA candidates and they enter the work force, they are not prepared–they have not studied the standards, teaching methodology, curriculum development or pedagogy and therefore do not do an adequate job. Again, they become disillusioned with the field or do not further an interest in dance because they cannot paint a picture of what is possible.

Our state has VAPA standards in dance. Nationally, standards for model dance programs, assessment, professional teaching standards and standards for create, perform and respond have been articulated well through the National Dance Education Organization ( It would be easy to align college curriculum to these standards. We don’t even have to wait for the state’s economy to improve–we can get started now because it would also be easy to develop collaborative partnerships between organizations such as our California Institute for Dance Learning (CIDL) and college education and dance departments so that the “burden” of fte can be shared. I imagine a program where a student takes child development and learning theories through an education department, dance history, kinesiology and technique through a dance department and pedagogy, assessment and curriculum & instruction through the CIDL –with supervision from whichever of these institutions makes the most sense to that individual teacher.

Without a credential, arts education will continue to be dominated by music programs and by “arts integration”–which is often demonstrated by superficial activities that do not really achieve the promise that standards-based dance programs hold.

Rosalina Macisco Says:
October 22, 2009 My name is Rosalina and I run Santa Barbara Dance Institute, which is modeled after the National Dance Institute. We offer full year IN-SCHOOL programming for an entire grade level. The year ends is a production at a professional community theatre involving ALL the children who participated, usually around 300.
While I agree that having credentials might invite the schools to hire teachers in dance and theatre and give more merit to these arts programs, the real problem that I face when trying begin a program at a school is that many principals and teachers are SWAMPED with the pressure of STAR testing. The test scores are so important to the schools financial existence that it is a challenge to schedule time each week for the arts. There are many schools who do not buy in to this pressure but there are still many (especially the one’s we target, which are Title ONe schools) that do need to ‘prove’ themselves.
Rosalina Macisco Founder/Director SBDI

Nicole Robinson Says:
October 23, 2009 I have been so frustrated by the lack of awareness of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing about dance and the dance credential. Fontana Unified School District requires anyone who teaches dance to have a PE credential. Although this sounds great on paper, it does not work in practice. Most college PE departments have not been combined with dance programs since the early 1980′s. This means that most teachers with a PE credential/degree have a very limited knowledge of dance. In our district, I am the ONLY dance teacher who has a dance degree. In addition, most of the teachers in my district do not have the skills to understand how to do or teach the CA dance standards because the PE degree of today does not cover those concepts. This situation makes the idea of a highly qualified dance teacher in California a joke. If you are required to have a PE credential to teach dance but PE departments are not training dancers, the majority of the dance teachers in California are NOT highly qualified. In addition, you CANNOT be hired as a dance teacher in my district if you have a DANCE degree because you do not have a PE credential. This is a ridiculous and idiotic situation. Please keep the fight going!!

Cody Ross Says:
February 26, 2010 Regularly I do not make comments on blogs, but I have to mention that this post really forced me to do so. Really proficient post

Anfaani Says:
March 10, 2010 Yes, as many talented students as there are in California, there should be specific credentials for Theatre and Dance. I would love to have the opporunity to teach Drama, but as much as I enjoy reading and writing, I did not want to get a credential in English. So although I have a degree in Theatre, I cannot teach it. Children really need to be exposed to art, even if they don’t become professionals. There is so much to be gained from it.