Theater and dance teaching credentials bill takes a leap forward

L.A. Unified elementary dance teachers rehearse a routine at a recent professional development meeting.
L.A. Unified elementary dance teachers rehearse a routine at a recent professional development meeting.
Priska Neely

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It's a surprising fact in the home of Hollywood: Although California requires teachers to earn credentials for music and visual arts, it's one of just two states in the country that does not offer teaching credentials in dance and theater.

State legislators today moved closer to changing that.

The state Senate Education Committee heard testimony today on SB 916, the Theatre and Dance Act (which legislators have dubbed "TADA!") that would establish single-subject credentials for dance and theater. The committee members voted in unanimous support, 9-0, and one senator called it "absolute[ly] awesome."

"For a state that prides itself on being the arts and entertainment capital of the world, this is just a glaring oversight that needs to be addressed," said Sen. Ben Allen (D – Santa Monica), who authored the legislation.

In absence of single-subject credentials, dance teachers are currently required to obtain a credential in physical education and theater teachers to get a credential in English.

"This makes about as much sense as requiring Spanish teachers to get a credential in French because there might be some similarities between the two," said Allen. "It just doesn't respect these core academic disciplines or the kids who deserve highly qualified teachers in those subjects." 

Actress Annette Bening testified in support of the bill, along with a dance and theater student from Palo Alto High School. 

Many theater and dance teachers have been advocating for credentials for decades for three keys reasons:

  1. Dance and theater teacher are sometimes assigned to teach English or P.E., respectively; conversely, sometimes English or P.E. teachers with little arts training are assigned to teach theater or dance classes. 
  2. Teachers interested in teaching these subjects may move to other states or to teaching other subjects to avoid  having to obtain the P.E. or English credentials.
  3. Teachers believe that adding an official credential will legitimize their fields. 

"Dance is an art form and I think all of us felt really rather insulted that we have to go take a badminton course when we have so much to offer as an art teacher, as an artist, in how we get children to express themselves," said LAUSD elementary dance teacher Melanie Panush Lindert. 

The California Teachers Association had previously been the biggest source of opposition because of concerns about excessive credential requirements, which could create more obstacles to teaching. But Ginger Rose Fox, an itinerant dance teacher in LAUSD and the CTA arts education caucus chair, said dance teachers, as well as P.E., theater and English launched a major lobbying effort to gain support within the union. 

"Proliferation of credentials would mean, 'OK, we'd like to have a credential in tap dancing and ballet dancing and choreography and composition and lighting and all of those other things,' " said Fox. "So we were able to argue that it's not a proliferation and we were also able to argue that CTA state policy can be changed and should be changed and it's time to change."

She said the bill is vital to quality arts education for kids. The California education code mandates that visual and performing arts be included in the school curriculum for all students in grades one through six, and offered to all students in grades seven through 12.

"All students should have access to the arts," said Fox. "And when you have teachers who are adequately credentialed and trained in their art form, then students will see that and be able to shine and grow."

If passed, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing would work to roll out and implement the new credential process. In the next few months, the bill must move through the Senate, and the assembly, before going to the governor for a signature. The legislative session ends on August 31.