The Politics of Teacher Licensure in Art Education: How Should We (re)Act?

Justin P. Sutters
George Mason University, USA

Citation: Sutters, J. P. (2019). The politics of teacher licensure in art education: How should we (re)act? Transdisciplinary Inquiry, Practice, and Possibilities in Art Education. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Libraries Open Publishing. DOI: 10.26209/arted50-10

Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to take into consideration the call of the 1965 Seminar to define problem areas in the field of art education and draw attention to contemporary concerns related to teacher licensure. Referencing participants from the Redbook, the author attempts to make the case that particular aspects of licensure paradigms being implemented in some states are having drastic effects on teacher education programs and could have substantial longitudinal implications if unmitigated. Drawing from personal experiences over the past six years, the author shares concerns about the edTPA licensure framework that is currently being implemented in numerous states and managed by Pearson. Taking inspiration from the profound impact the 1965 Redbook had on the field of art education, the paper ends with a call to (re)act to what is potentially problematic about teacher licensure and the author proposes multiple initiatives as a means to inquire into and respond to the challenges ahead.

Problem Area(s) in Art Education: A Contemporary Reading of the “Redbook”

At the onset, I want to frame potential understandings of teacher licensure in the United States with a specific emphasis on implications and applications directed towards the field of art education. In an attempt to bracket fatalistic discourse of the current state of education, I present multiple designations or descriptors to potentially reframe not only how we come to a more comprehensive understanding of teacher education and licensure, but then also to seek out and highlight varied structures and/or approaches that could serve as mechanisms to (re)act to the challenges many in academia are experiencing in their teacher education programs.

Taking into consideration the overall theme and historical context of the symposium, it is helpful to comment on the state of the field in 1965. One of the primary objectives of the 1965 symposium was “To focus attention on five major problem areas in art education” (p. 2). In the first chapter of the aptly named “Redbook” entitled Philosophic Inquiry into Education in the Arts, Francis T. Villemain (1965) speaks to the problem of defining art education and later expounds on this by stating, “The logical canon of intelligibility at minimum requires recognition that a word may be used to designate differing matters and that we be clear as to which usage is being employed on any given occasion” (p. 5). That being said, it is important for the purposes of this paper and subsequent discourse that the term licensure is stated and understood to used in a particular manner, but open to interpretation in order to further the discourse.

Licensure is broadly understood in the field of art education to denote the culmination of a teacher education program whereas the recipient has satisfied all program and state requirements to the ends of being eligible to teach K-12 in a public school. This structure takes various forms in each state, thus the complexity of this issue. However, for the remainder of the text, licensure will be used to broadly encompass all 50 states while acknowledging variance and an incomplete understanding therein.

I now revisit the charge of the 1965 symposium and begin to determine the extent to which licensure in its current manifestation can be deemed a “problem area”. In the second text of the Redbook, David W. Ecker (1965) presents Some Problems of Art Education: A Methodological Definition and states,

It is entirely possible for an art educator, for example, to investigate a problem which is a genuine problem — a puzzle — for him but which at the same time is not significant to the field of art education. This unhappy situation might arise, of course, if, contrary to his own judgment, his problem is judged to be trivial by his professional peers&ellip; (p. 24)

In light of his warning, I hope my concern is not an isolated one and the primary intention of this paper is to seek out multiple voices from a wide spectrum of both geographical differences but also experiential accounts. Ecker extends the charge posed in the Redbook when stating, “I would like, however, to concentrate on the question of what constitutes an adequate conception of a problem in art education” (1965, p. 24). I echo a similar call some fifty years later with the intent of drawing more attention at the national level to the particular issue of licensure.

In the most respectful manner and with perhaps a measure of self-indictment as well, I agree with Ecker’s claim when he states, “I think it is fair to say that art educators display little or no collective sense of what is problematical in their field” (p. 25). Considering how multifaceted and context-specific licensure is, how could one do so? Over the past seventeen years, I have taught and observed student teachers in five states and have a working knowledge of varying licensure requirements. I also conducted a comparative analysis of teacher licensure in the United States and Brazil by looking at two of the larger degree-granting programs in each respective country. Nonetheless, it would be myopic to say I have a collective sense of the nuances of licensure across the country.

Therefore, I take heed to Ecker’s distinction between the two kinds of problems and his challenge that “one imagines that problems somehow exist whether ordinary people are aware of them or not” (1965, p. 28). To this end, in perhaps an overly simplistic extension, I offer a third dynamic in between “A problem” and it “Not being a problem”, the oft-used adjective in contemporary discourse, problematic. Meaning, if not encapsulated in its entirety as “A problem”, what aspects or applications of licensure can be deemed troublesome and worthy of further investigation? Is it a matter of us, as a field, not being aware of these collective concerns or are their regional and context-specific matters that are not relevant to the field at large?

I contend that perhaps it is the former. In searching the literature in our field, there is little to no mention in our journals of substantial research directly related to licensure in the past twenty years. There are numerous mentions of best practices enacted in teacher education programs towards completing licensure, but an apparent lack or gap exists that speaks to the multiple, and at times conflicting, licensure requirements across the country. In 1999, the NAEA published the Standards for Art Teacher Preparation and revised them in 2009. However, much has changed since and these standards and their revisions were created under now superseded NCATE standards. In July of 2013, NCATE and TEAC were consolidated into Council for the Accreditation of Education Programs (CAEP) as the new accrediting body for educator preparation ( When viewing the CAEP standards, there are none specific to Visual Arts or Arts Education, including dance, theater or music. What traditionally occurs is that units adhere to their Specialty Professional Association, or SPA. In situations where an art education program is housed in an Art & Design department, NASAD accreditation standards are often adopted, as is the case at my current institution. The standards in the NASAD 2015-2016 handbook are clear and attainable but do not seem to fully take into account these varying complexities (NASAD, 2016). Furthermore, one has to question to what extent these standards are being updated and who is doing so.

Federal Legislation and For-profit Implementation on the State Level

This leads us now to the title of this paper and the concern surrounding the increased politicization, privatization, and corporatization of education. If we ascribe education as a political act, we also have to entertain the reality that education is simultaneously acted upon, politically (Freire, 1993). Recent legislation at both the state and national level has significantly impacted teacher education programs and how they prepare candidates for licensure in art education. The steady privatization and deprofessionalization of K-12 education through policies enacted by No Child Left Behind and the subsequent Race to the Top now impact academia in the like. These mandates, in conjunction with other issues, have lead to significant decreases in enrollment in licensure programs[i] as well as related teacher shortages in many states[ii]. The recent passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act[iii] (ESSA) is encouraging in some regards, but also opens up spaces for increased privatization through charter schools and alternative licensure initiatives such as Teach For America. These policies could be discussed ad nauseam because education, specifically licensure, is a highly complex reality. But for the sake of this paper, I will highlight one specific approach I have extensive experience with as a model by which to gain insight into larger mechanisms that can be generalized across the country and seen as potentially problematic.

A disturbing trend is the influence of for-profit entities as evidenced in Pearson’s implementation of edTPA in various states. According to their website[iv], there are eleven states that have “policy in place” and they claim there are many others that are “Taking steps towards implementation” (2016). The program was designed by SCALE (Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity) and is ministered by Pearson, a transnational corporation. Candidates are required to design what they coin a “learning segment” that is videotaped and then uploaded to the website. The candidate completes numerous written reflections that are assessed via 15 rubrics. Much can be said about the specifics of this model, but I want to paraphrase key points from a recent position statement released by the Illinois High School District Organization of Superintendents (2015):

  • The protocols embedded within the edTPA process are not shown to be valid or reliable indicators of teacher effectiveness.
  • The key measurements of teacher effectiveness are missing from this metric.
  • The assessment measurements embedded within the edTPA protocols are linked to the historical context of the hyper-testing culture associated with recent federal and state policies.
  • This requirement is yet another unfunded mandate that forces school districts to spend money to obtain student/family permission to videotape in the designated classrooms.
  • The $300 fee that student teachers would need to pay for this assessment is a burden that many can’t afford, especially minority and poverty-level candidates.

Perhaps of most concern is how the program was approved in Illinois through a no-bid contract and the superintendents state this “smacks of non-transparent government” (2015, p.1). They draw connections between this recent policy in relation the state PARCC assessments and how Pearson will make over 2 million annually on this 5-year contract. Some institutions within states, such as Ohio, are currently contesting full implementation and it will be of interest to track how or if it continues to roll out in other states. This impending push towards external accountability through empirical modalities can and will have a significant impact on teacher education programs going forward if unmitigated. The concern is how we, as a field, are represented within this discourse and decision-making process. The grim reality is that we are not and if third party, for-profit corporations continue to be in positions of authority, how then do we (re)act?

An Oligopoly in Education: Health vs. Survival

While his commentary at the 1966 seminar was directed towards the context of ideas, Francis T. Villemain references Heilbroner who coins oligopoly as a “market shared by few sellers” (p. 5). Some fifty years later, the term has morphed into a new reality in the education sector where a few publicly traded corporations, political action committees (PACs), and politicians, such as the Secretary of Education, have unparalleled sway on policies that impacts teacher education and licensure. Contrary to the economic and political climate of 1965 when federal funding supported initiatives such as the Penn State symposium, universities are now receiving less and less state and federal funds while alternative licensure programs such as Teach for America receives millions of dollars from the government[v]. What are the consequences of these trends and how should we react?

Returning to my initial premise and inquiry as to whether the issue of licensure can be, or should be considered “A problem”, I reference the scholarship of Samuel Hope in the Handbook of Research and Policy in Art Education from 2004. I first read the chapter entitled Art Education in a World of Cross-Purposes during graduate school while a middle school art educator. I was in my third year of teaching and our district was under extreme scrutiny as it was labeled a “distressed” school because of test scores. The pressure to incorporate standards into our teaching and the omnipresent focus on testing was taking its toll on many of us, not only collectively, but also individually. Personally, I was experiencing the burnout evidenced by many new teachers and his commentary was appropriate in that context and can still be applied now. In this text, Hope metaphorically comments on the health of the field by stating,

“For the human body, the distinction between survival and health is fundamentally clear.... Activists tend to treat every setback as a survival issue and present it in those terms. The cumulative effect is a pernicious image of failure and decline irrespective of the facts”. (2004, p. 97)

The failure narrative is pervasive in media representations of public education and this narrative is often heard in academia as well. Similar to the Redbook’s focus on “problem areas’, Hope speaks to the survival issues for the field of art education by asking, “What are the make or break variables? This is what we must have in order to exist” (2004, p. 98). Hope follows with additional inquiries that are even more relevant today as they were in 2004 because the generation educated in the testing culture of No Child Left Behind is now residing in our college classrooms. Hope claims,

There must be a body of people who prepare new professionals&ellip;they must answer the questions, “What do future professionals in this field need to know and be able to do?” and “What of this is most important to teach in the time available?” (2004, p. 99)

So, who are these new professionals in 2016 and what do we need to know and be able to do now in the realm of licensure in art education? The trends and practices surrounding high-stake testing and accountability measures enacted through empirical matrices are becoming now more prevalent in academia, specifically in licensure. As one heavily invested in public school education as well as teacher preparation, I am concerned about our collective understanding in this regard. As a researcher, I am curious about the breadth and depth of issues that exist in this field and what practices and approaches are being enacted to respond to them.


To potentially address the aforementioned concerns and inquiries, I propose three (re)actions.

  1. A Working Group to be initiated under the headship of the Research Commission to glean a “collective sense” of issues in the field pertaining to licensure.
  2. Comparative studies that look to other disciplines countries to more effectively isolate the problematic aspects of licensure while also potentially drawing from effective models and/or practices.
  3. Similar to the position statement by the Illinois Superintendents, I suggest a formal response by the NAEA informed by research that highlights and responds to “problematic” aspects of licensure granting structures such as edTPA.

As previously stated, the initial inquiry should be one that determines whether it is indeed a systemic problem afflicting the field at large or to what extent it might be localized and more or less prevalent in particular contexts. If deemed worrisome to the degree of elevating it to “A Problem”, then representatives from various divisions and locales should be selected to conduct research into informed ways to engage in the political discourse and advocate on behalf of visual arts education to ensure our voice is present in policies and paradigms that impact teacher education programs and specifically state licensure. Similar to the structure adopted by some of the working groups of the Research Commission of the NAEA, it would be a temporary initiative with nominated individuals from varied backgrounds that collectively would represent the intricate and often complicated nature of this issue.

While the Standards for Teacher Preparation (NAEA) written in 1999 and revised in 2009 speak to what an effective art educator looks like, we have no collective means by which to demonstrate how we assess that. That is not to say that it is not being done at individual institutions, but in the face of federal and external demands for professionalization through standardization, perhaps it might be in our best interest to proactively agree on a shared framework for assessing efficacy in teacher education before it is imposed on us. Perhaps it is wise to act now rather than (re)act later.


Ecker, D. (1966). Some Problems of Art Education: A Methodological Definition. A Seminar in Art Education for Research and Curriculum Development. The Pennsylvania State University Libraries, University Park, PA. pgs. 24-37.

Freire, P. (1993) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. (New rev. 20th anniversary ed.). New York, NY: Continuum.

Illinois High School District Organization (2015). EdTPA Position Paper. Received via email November 25th, 2015.

Hope, S. (1994) Art Education in a World of Cross-Purposes. Handbook of Research and Policy in Art Education, NAEA, Reston, VA, p. 93-114.

Mattil, E. (1966) A Seminar in Art Education for Research and Curriculum Development. The Pennsylvania State University Libraries, University Park, PA.

National Association of Schools of Art and Design Handbook (2016). Accessed February 12, 2016.

Standards for Art Teacher Preparation (2009). National Art Education Association, Reston, VA.

Villemain, F. (1966). Philosophic Inquiry into Education in the Arts. A Seminar in Art Education for Research and Curriculum Development. The Pennsylvania State University Libraries, University Park, PA. pgs. 4-20.

[i] Title II Higher Education Act (2015). Enrollment in Teacher Education Programs.

[ii] U.S. Department of Education (2015). Teacher Shortage Areas Nationwide Listing 1990-1991 through 2015-2016.


Justin P. Sutters

Dr. Justin Sutters has been an art educator in varying capacities for the past twenty years including K-12, internationally and in academia. He is the Director of the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program in Art Education at George Mason University and an Assistant Professor. He serves in two appointed positions within NAEA and is on multiple editorial boards of peer-reviewed journals. He has published and presented his research nationally and internationally. ORCID ID: