January 10, 2017
The Educational Theatre Association has released the 2016 Opportunity-to-Learn Standards for Theatre Education (OTLs). The Theatre Opportunity to Learn Standards (OTLs) are a companion document to the 2014 National Core Arts Education Standards geared toward grades 6-8 and 9-12. The OTLs are available as a downloadable PDF, as a navigation item in the Schooltheatre.org Advocacy menu, and were included in the recently published winter issue of Teaching Theatre as a separate, bound print copy. EdTA Director of Educational Policy James Palmarini, who managed a member committee that created the OTLs, said the goal of the document was to serve as both an advocacy resource and pedagogical tool that can help build and maintain successful standards-based theatre programs. “The OTLs, like the standards, don’t identify specific curriculum that a theatre educator needs within a theatre program,” he said. “What they do include is guidance on the curriculum and scheduling, staffing, resources and equipment, safety elements, and facilities that must be in place in a well-organized and effective curricular theatre program.”
EdTA’s creation of the Opportunity-to-Learn Standards also serves states and districts seeking to define theatre and other arts education under the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA, passed in late 2015, is scheduled to go into effect in the 2017-18 school year. States have spent the last year reviewing the law to determine what is required to support ESSA’s articulated well-rounded subject areas, including the arts, particularly regarding Title IV, part A funding. This newly authorized U.S. Department of Education funding stream, known as the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, gives states and districts flexibility to decide how they spend their funds, based on the defined needs of their schools and students. According to Palmarini, the OTLs can provide the basis for a district’s theatre program assessment—what they have and what they don’t—as the first step toward securing ESSA funding to support better standards-based theatre education for students.
“At the end of day the OTLs are about defining the tools that teachers need to ensure that all students have the best opportunity to achieve theatre literacy. There’s no reason that every child shouldn’t have an equal opportunity to experience the joy of theatre. We think the OTLs can help make that happen.”