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The Outsourcing of Arts Education

A good many of you must have read the article in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times that looked at a Burbank parochial school that had chosen to let go of licensed theater faculty in favor of bringing in actors to teach theater.

Facing enrollment drop, Burbank Catholic school gets

creative in staffing theater program

outsourcing teaching positions to professional actors, Providence High
has revitalized its drama program, and officials say it could become a
model for other financially strapped schools.

Not only is this a touch subject, it’s also a subject that takes on a very different shape depending on the circumstances of the individual school or school system.

A few thoughts:

1. There are not a ton of certified teachers in theater or dance. The last I looked, the ratio of certified theater teachers to students in the NYC public schools, for example, was about one  to every 13,000 students. Nationwide, there were not enough certified theater or dance specialists teaching to have established a adequate sample size for NAEP Arts 2008 to report out on dance and theater.
2. Regardless of the specific arts discipline, at a minimum, most of the certified arts teachers I have met are somewhat suspect of the role teaching artists and organizations play in schools. Their suspicion tends to focus on teaching artists replacing certified arts teachers (the outsourcing issue).
3. Ideally, arts education is delivered best by a powerful combination of certified arts teachers, classroom teachers, and cultural organizations, including teaching artists.
4. Where there are not enough certified arts teachers available, it would be hard to fault a school that chooses to hire teaching artists as an alternative.
5. An expansion of outsourcing as described by the LA Times piece will only serve to balkanize the arts education field.
6. The certified arts teachers are getting it from all sides. Not only do they have to worry about a narrowing of the curriculum in an accountability zeitgeist run amuck, but they are being attacked as all certified teachers are for the quality of their training and performance while facing the growing issue of alternative certification. And yes, they are greatly concerned about teachers being asked to teach the arts who are licensed in other subject areas.

I have often defended the arts field to certified arts teachers as being extremely supportive of the vital role of the certified arts teacher. Moreover I have argued that the arts field has gone to bat over time for the hiring of certified arts teachers. As a matter of principle, most people I know believe that when there is a certified arts teacher, the more likely it is that the school will partner with the cultural field.

The article was not very well put together, I am afraid. It doesn’t really do much but give the impression that any actor can teach K-12. In that respect, it does a terrible disservice to the field of educational theater. It may very well be that the two actors that the schools have hired are highly trained, but there is no mention of that in the article.

Each actor may be half the price of the licensed theater teacher (and yes, the article only implies
that there were licensed theater teachers previously), but we have no
idea about frequency of instruction or anything else. What was lost
with the changeover, I guess is what I would have liked to have read.
And yes, I get it, I do, these are tough times. That being said, it is a
slippery slope from the exigent situation to the norm.

Shall we declare it open season on certified arts teachers?



  1. Richard,
    This issue about certified arts educators vs. non-certified outsources artists is indeed a thorny one. But I am curious to ask you a vaguely unrelated question: to teach theatre or almost any art form at the university level, one needs only the advanced degree (MFA, PhD) as a credential, and need not demonstrate at any level that they have the ability or training to teach. Appearances to the contrary, undergraduates are still in an emotional and developmental stage in their lives that requires a certain level of teaching skill to successfully approach. Does the arts education field take any position on the fact that college professors are seldom if ever trained to teach? And if not, then why worry about whether or not a certified teacher or an outsourced actor with a college degree is in the K-12 classroom? -twl

  2. I think that most people who are involved with teaching education on the college level have bona findes as tK-12 eachers. But still, it’s a good question as many people are questioning these program regardless, as being too mired in theory and not strong enough in actual classroom work.

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