Sac Bee: California must emphasize arts in public schools


As a kid, I loved the arts. My mom is an artist, and playing Captain Hook in my high school theater production of “Peter Pan” was one of the highlights of my youth.

I realize I was fortunate to have grown up in a community that values the arts and understands the positive influence the arts can have on young people. Students with a higher level of arts involvement are more likely to be high achievers on tests, less likely to drop out, and more engaged in school.

Fast-forward 20 years. As chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Arts, I held a hearing last fall to assess whether the arts are being adequately incorporated into the curriculum as state law requires.

Of the many things discussed, one key takeaway was that California and West Virginia are the only two states that do not issue teaching credentials in theater and dance. For a state that prides itself on being the arts and entertainment capital of the world, this is unacceptable.

There are 13 core subjects for which specific credentials are authorized. For no logical reason, art and music are among them, but theater and dance are not. In fact, theater and dance are the only subjects that have detailed standards in law that do not also have a credential.

More than 200 colleges offer theater or dance majors, but graduates hoping to teach in these fields are required to obtain a credential in English or physical education, respectively. This makes about as much sense as requiring Spanish teachers to get a credential in French. It doesn’t respect the disciplines, or the kids who deserve highly qualified teachers.

I’ve authored Senate Bill 916, the Theatre and Dance Act – TADA – to establish single-subject credentials in theater and dance. Under this proposal, new teachers entering the profession will no longer be required to earn a credential in an unrelated subject. And for teachers who have completed the required coursework to teach theater or dance in addition to another subject for which they’ve earned a credential, nothing will change.

The bill passed its first legislative hurdle, the Senate Education Committee, this month and it recently gained support of the California Teachers Association. In “Peter Pan,” Captain Hook says: “Now it’s time to be whatever you want to be.”

I hope we can enact this overdue legislation so that aspiring theater and dance teachers finally can be what they want to be.

Sen. Ben Allen is a Democrat who represents West Los Angeles, Hollywood and the coastal South Bay communities of Los Angeles County. He can be reached at

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