Art Works Blog

Taking Note: Is My Public School Teacher Qualified to Teach My Arts Class?

(Answer: It depends on the arts subject and whether you’re a middle or high school student.)

In mid-July, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released two reports profiling the educational and certification achievements of middle and high school teachers. The reports match those credentials to courses that instructors actually teach in their schools. For both reports, the data come from ED’s National Center for Education Statistics, specifically its 2011-2012 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). One report focuses on public middle schools; the other on public high schools.

Before extracting the survey’s findings about arts education, let’s define some terms. Within the arts, the survey collects data for teachers of music, of the visual arts and crafts, and of dance and/or theater. The teachers must have taught one of these subjects in 2011-2012 as their “main assignment” or as simply another “class subject area taught.” For the purpose of this blog post, I’ll look at “departmentalized” middle school and high school teachers. These are instructors who teach courses to different sets of students throughout the day.

Also for the purpose of reporting, “education” refers to a teacher’s college or graduate school major. For a qualified music instructor, the college or graduate school major must have been in music. For visual arts, the choice of major was either visual arts or art history. For dance or theater instructors, fittingly, the majors should have been either in dance or theater. As for “certification,” the report accounts for any additional training to teach a particular subject or in a particular grade level.

Whew! Now for the findings themselves. Let’s start with Music. How qualified are middle-school instructors in this subject? It turns out that almost 100 percent of middle-school students are taught by music teachers who have either an education or a certification in music. Meanwhile, little over 85 percent of middle school students are taught by music teachers who both have an education in music and are also certified to teach music. Similar findings also emerged for high school students.

For the Visual Arts and Crafts, however, the percentages of middle and high school students taking courses from qualified teachers are lower. In middle schools, just fewer than 90 percent of students are taught by visual arts teachers who have either an education or a certification in the visual arts, and about 70 percent of students are taught by visual arts teachers who both have an education in the visual arts and are also certified to teach in visual arts. The percentages for high school students are generally similar to those seen in middle school.

When we turn to Dance and Theater, however, the percentages for middle and high school are starkly different. But before we get into those numbers, reader beware: the standard errors for the Dance/Theater findings are quite high, so it’s important to interpret these percentages with caution. That said, just under 60 percent of middle school students are taught by dance and/or theater teachers who have either an education or a certification in dance or theater. Meanwhile, just under 20 percent of middle school students are taught by dance/theater teachers who have both an education and certification in one or both subjects.

For high school, though, more students are being taught by qualified dance/theater teachers. More than 90 percent of high school students are taught by dance or theater teachers with either an education or a certification in dance or theater, while over 50 percent of students are taught by teachers who have both an education and a certification in dance/theater.

In other words, most students who take arts courses are taught by teachers qualified in those subjects, which is great news for students, parents, educators, and policymakers who support the arts. Admittedly, there appear to be some exceptions (e.g., dance/theater for middle school students). Allowing for the margin of error, these results can be used by dance and theater schools to propound greater credentialing in these fields for middle-school instructors. By the survey’s definitions, however, such credentials do not account for the capability of teaching artists, who may not have followed a conventional path in acquiring skills and knowledge about their fields, but yet who may have developed long-term experience in teaching those subjects.

In addition, students of the arts seem to be in better hands than are students of other core subjects. In middle school, for example, more than 30 percent of students in English, math, science are taught by teachers who do not have an education or a certification in the subjects they teach.

Similarly, just under 30 percent of social science students are taught by teachers who do not have an education or a certification in this subject. High school teachers in English, math, science, and social science appear more qualified than teachers in middle school, where 10 percent of students or fewer are taught by teachers with no education or certification in those subjects.

For more details on the findings and methodology, see the reports themselves or the main page for the SASS study. In the most recent round of NEA Research: Art Works grant awards, the University of Maryland was funded to examine the 2011-2012 Schools and Staffing Survey alongside ED’s FY 2013 Teacher Follow-Up Study. The goal is to produce a statistical snapshot of arts education, including variables, such as gender, race/ethnicity, educational attainment, salary, and teaching responsibilities, among other characteristics. Stay tuned for the results, which we’ll post to our website. Speaking of Research: Art Works, did I mention that the FY16 application guidelines are now online? Go take a look!

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