This has been a great conversation around a very important topic: the validation of theatre educators as trained professionals whose skills and expertise are equal to their peers in other academic areas. Most of this dialogue has been around the long-standing belief that an Advanced Placement theatre exam and National Board Certification would finally give theatre education the recognition that it rightly deserves. Pursuing an AP and Board Certification are both worthwhile advocacy strategies, and EdTA and others have done so in the past.
But I don't think either of these goals are the singular golden rings that can and would validate theatre educators and the field.
In the first place, as noted by others here, the sponsoring organizations of the exam and certification-the College Board and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards-do not create new products to validate teachers. They market goods to meet a demand-in this case, a tests that measure college readiness and professional development that affirms master teacher status. Like any organization with a sound business plan, they are seeking to generate revenue. Given their profile, the AP exam and Board Certification are, rightly or wrongly, seen as the seal of approval and worthiness for both a subject area and its teachers. But there are other ways our field can be recognized and valued as an academic area with a rich and valuable body of knowledge and skills that must be taught by experienced and trained professionals.
Here are thoughts and some strategies around that sensibility.
On June 4, the National Core Arts Standards will be released, after three years of work by teams of teacher-writers-including theatre-that represents a collaborative effort across dance, media arts, music, theatre, and visual arts. One of the reasons that this work took as long as it did was because it was a challenge for the five disciplines to fully recognize and agree upon the common artistic processes that occurs in all art making. The 11 anchor standard that resulted from this partnership are a validation of ALL the arts-not just music and visual arts-as equally important to a student's well- rounded education and, in turn, the need for certified experts to teach the skills and knowledge articulated in each discipline's standards. The goal of the sequential PreK-12 arts standards themselves is to build towards an outcome of proficiency in a chosen art path that prepares students for college and career success. Isn't that a goal of all education?
The collaboration between all the major arts education associations and other key national organizations that make up the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS) is not only validation, it's a forum for further dialogue and action that can create meaningful change. Among NCCAS's member organizations is the College Board. The Board does not invest time or money into a project without purpose. Some years ago, EdTA persuaded the Board to survey colleges and university theatre programs on their level of interest in an AP theatre exam; while I don't think the survey was particularly robust or reliable, it was hard to ignore how negative the response was, with only a handful of programs saying that they accept the AP for more than entry level credit, if that (what's the point of taking an AP course, if it can't be applied as college credit?). But times have changed and I think for the better. I know it's hard to ask for patience regarding the AP, but I am asking for it here-the relationship that EdTA and other arts education organizations have with the College Board and other education organizations is very different today-they know who we are and what we want and, while it is just one block of a larger foundation, I think we will eventually get that AP.
One other point about the new standards themselves: we all know that the most recent elephant in the room of education are the new teacher evaluation models that have been rolled out by districts and states throughout the country. For non-tested subject areas, this has been a dual-edged sword-perhaps it's a good thing not to evaluated on student achievement in subject areas you don't teach; on the other hand, in many places, school-wide test scores account for at least 50 percent of an arts teacher's evaluation. Most states have implemented student learning objective-SLOs-into their evaluation models for all teachers, including theatre and the other arts. Districts want to know what students are learning over a specific period of time and are using the data to measure teacher effectiveness. Embedded into the new standards is something that can help: Model Cornerstone Assessments (MCAs) demonstrate how valid and reliable standards-based learning in an art form can be measured. The idea is for working educators to use the example MCAs to create their own assessments that align the standards, their curriculum, and the learning needs of their students. The point here is that these assessments confirm that students are learning and that it is a powerful affirmation of the teacher's skill and expertise that rightfully belongs in his or her evaluation portfolio.
On the issue of Career and Technical Education, if there is any aspect of education that has transformed itself in the 21st century surely it is CTE. The old Voc-Ed model in which training in trades like carpentry, welding, and auto repair was offered to fill a particular need in a very specific geography is no longer how job training in secondary education is done or regarded. CTE fully recognizes that students learn differently and that working is mobile, often done in an virtual environment, and that the skills associated with it are highly marketable. And yes-that includes a growing recognition that theatre is a definable career path, particularly technical theatre. EdTA has made CTE a central part of our advocacy work in the last few years, seeking to educate members on the financial and programmatic opportunities that they can pursue through CTE. States as diverse as Arizona, California, Colorado, Ohio, and New Jersey have all successfully gained recognition, at varying levels, for theatre classes (in some case, for their state Thespian organization itself) as a school or district CTE program.
Finally, regarding National Board Certification, according to the most recent USDOE data, there are approximately 24,000 schools in the United States that feature some sort of theatre activity. We don't know how many of them have trained and certified theatre educators. Some years ago, former EdTA Excutive Director Michael Peitz and I engaged in an extended dialogue with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards leadership around the issue of Board certification for theatre educators. The discussion was cordial, but NBPTS said there simply weren't enough theatre educators to warrant the time and financial commitment to create a certification program. Further, as noted by Leslie Van Leishout in her post, it's questionable as to how many theatre teachers would actually pursue certification-it's an investment of time and money and there is no nationwide consistency as to how that investment would translate into compensation or even stature. But, like the AP, NBPTS certification is certainly another worthwhile key to validation. To get a better sense of what the level of interest is among EdTA membership around National Board Certification, EdTA will launch a survey in the Fall of 2014.
In the meantime, let's keep up the dialogue around these issues. I hope you can all find the time to participate in the launch of the National Core Arts Standards on June 4. If not, the webinar will be archived for later review.
Director of Educational Policy
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