A new look at high school theatre programs: The 2012 Survey of Theatre Education in United States High Schools
When the Educational Theatre Association conducted the 1991 Survey of Theatre Education in United States High Schools, it was a monumental accomplishment for both theatre education and the organization. It gave the field the first new look at its practitioners and students in twenty years, and gave EdTA a level of heightened creditability. It’s taken a long time for a new study to be done, but now it’s here: EdTA has released the 2012 Survey of Theatre Education in United States High Schools.
Like the 1991 survey, this landscape study of high school theatre has been published in the association’s quarterly journal, Teaching Theatre. This edition has been issued in both print and digital formats, marking the first time the journal has been available online. The print edition was mailed to EdTA’s nearly 5,000 adult members; the online version of the survey is available to anyone who logs on to Teaching Theatre Digital. Full disclosure: I’m the editor of Teaching Theatre (and reluctantly admit I was in 1991 as well).
The new survey, done by EdTA in partnership with Utah State University, was conducted by Utah State theatre professor and researcher Dr. Matt Omasta and a staff of USU graduate students. The survey included two questionnaires—one for school administrators and one for theatre educators. Omasta’s team invited all regular public schools in the United States with an enrollment of at least 200 to participate in the survey. Responses were tallied from 1,245 of them. They used the 1991 data and questionnaires as a baseline for comparison to analyze how secondary theatre education has changed or remained the same during the twenty-year interval.
The data included in the survey offers a fresh snapshot of theatre teachers, their students, and school administrators. The findings include figures on participation in drama programs, student and faculty demographics, employment of theatre teachers and teaching artists, faculty qualifications and assessment, the theatre curriculum, production activities, perceptions of the value of theatre programs, social issues and subject-matter appropriateness, budgets and finances, facilities, and technology and new media.
It’s a picture that both affirms what we suspected was true, and offers some new, and sometimes surprising, facts and figures about the state of our field. In other words, the study does what you expect reliable research to do—confirm or dispel what we think we know about a particular practice, belief, or issue and prompt new questions for future study.
Here’s just a bit of what the survey found:
- 76 percent of schools offer courses in theatre during the school day, and 89 percent offer extracurricular production activity. Both numbers are up significantly since similar studies that were conducted in 1970 and 1991.
- Production budgets are also up. The average cost of mounting a musical on a school stage is $7,394. The average production budget for a non-musical full-length play is $2,451.
- Full-time theatre teachers work an average of just under fifty-four hours a week.
- 20 percent of theatre teachers said that at least part of their evaluation was linked to test scores or other assessments of student achievement.
- 18 percent of teachers report that a script they intended to produce has been the subject of a community challenge or negative administrative review in the past two years. The most frequently mentioned titles: The Laramie Project, Urinetown, and Rent.
The above is just the tip of the data iceberg that makes up the 2012 survey of theatre education of our high schools. As the study was a stratified random survey of a select number of schools, teachers, and administrators, the odds that you actually were part of this study are fairly low. This survey asks a lot of fundamental questions and we would like to hear if others answer them the same way that survey respondents did. Measureable data—quantitative research—needs to put a human face on the facts and figures if it is to tell a story that is useful to the audience it wants to reach. In this case, we want teachers, administrators, legislators, and others to consider this data when they’re making decisions about funding, staffing, and curriculum that impacts theatre education. And that consideration ought to factor in both facts and figures and the people behind them. We are, after all, talking about art making—the true reflection of the human condition. So, in that spirit, my upcoming blogs will include comments from a cross section of theatre educators and school administrators, asking them some of the same questions that the 2012 survey respondents were queried on. If you’re interested in taking part in this discussion, check in with me at email@example.com. In the meantime, check out the survey itself at Teaching Theatre Digital—you just may have an entirely different take on that fifty-four-hour work week.