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The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 and What it Means for Music Education

In March 2015, I used this space to write about proposed changes to federal education law and the significant impact the proposed changes could have if the proposed bill actually made it through the labyrinth of Congress and actually become law. On December 10, 2015 President Obama signed into law a new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the important proposals discussed in March have now become, somewhat surprisingly, a reality.

So say goodbye to No Child Left Behind and hello to the new law, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This is an enormous victory for music and arts education advocates and a new day for arts education, with opportunities to use federal funding to increase access to arts education for all students, especially the most vulnerable.

There are a lot of important changes you should be aware of. So here is my cliff notes version to make things a little easier for you to follow.

Among the most important provisions for arts education in the law:

Enumeration of Arts and Music as Well-Rounded Subjects: Replacing the Core Academic Subject language from NCLB, this language clearly articulates that arts and music should be a part of every child’s education, no matter their personal circumstance. The prior laws (going back to 1994) included “the arts.” However, the definition of “the arts” disappeared from No Child Left Behind leading to an effort to clearly specify individual artistic disciplines. Both NAMM and NAfME led the charge and the result is… music is now articulated as a stand alone subject.

Requirements for Well-Rounded Education: Schools will now be able to assess their ability to provide a well-rounded education, including music and arts education, and address any deficiencies using federal funds.

Assistance for Arts Education: The law includes a distinct authorization to promote music and arts education under a new program, Assistance for Arts Education. The program will promote arts education for disadvantaged students through activities including professional development for arts teachers, development and dissemination of arts-based educational programming in multiple arts disciplines, and national outreach activities that strengthen partnerships among local education agencies, communities, and national centers for the arts—all helping ensure that all students have access to a well-rounded education that includes music and the arts.

Accountability: Under the new law, each local educational agency plan is required to describe how they will monitor students’ progress in meeting state standards, and how they will implement “a well-rounded program of instruction to meet the academic needs of all students.” This is designed “to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education, and to close the achievement gap between children meeting the challenging State academic standards and those who are not.”

Testing and Standards: The current adequate yearly progress (AYP) requirements have caused an erosion of arts instruction over the life of No Child Left Behind, as increased pressure to perform on key tests in math and reading led to the stifling often of other curricula, like arts education. Under the new law, AYP is replaced (YEA!) with multiple measures – an innovation of the states – including student engagement and postsecondary readiness. This removes a huge impediment to music and arts education programs. In addition, each state will have full control of the development of “challenging academic standards” within their state with no federal coercion or interference.

Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant Program: The program calls for at least 20 percent of the funds to be directed to well-rounded education, which includes, “activities in music and the arts.” This funding is distributed by formula (totaling $1.65 billion for FY17, and $1.6 billion for FY18-20), reaching states and school districts. Thus, the arts have equal footing with other academic subjects. This is a consolidation of several previous programs and is in addition to the Assistance for Arts Education section.

Flexibility in the Use of Title I Funds: All Title I programs, both school-wide and targeted, are now available to provide supplemental funds for a well-rounded education, including music and arts education.

More Professional Development for Music Educators: Funds from Titles I, II and IV of ESSA, may support professional development for music educators as part of supporting a well-rounded education.

STEM to STEAM: The new law includes support to schools that provide a well-rounded education through programs that integrate academic subjects, including the arts, into STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) courses.

Protection from “Pull Outs”: The new ESSA discourages removing students from the classroom, including music and arts, for remedial instruction.

Pre-School Grant Program: The law authorizes a pre-school grant program (Sec. 9212) that was funded by Congress last year and for the first time, included the arts within the “Essential Domains of School Readiness” definition as an approach to learning. In addition, the program allows local preschool programs to coordinate with local arts organizations.

21st Century Community Learning Centers: The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program will continue to support afterschool, out-of-school, and expanded learning time in schools. It serves over 1.6 million children with a budget of just over $1 billion annually, and is a critical source of funding for many afterschool arts programs, especially in lower-performing school districts and higher poverty areas.

Now there are a lot of people and organizations that did the heavy lifting to make the impossible possible for music and arts education. The folks who deserve the most accolades are everyone at NAMM, including Joe Lamond and Mary Luehrsen; NAfME, Michael Butera and Chris Woodside and the secret man behind the curtain Leo Coco of Nelson Mullins who represents NAMM’s lobbying efforts in Washington. Leo was really a magician on this one! Last but not least is former Secretary of Education Richard Riley who is a partner in Nelson Mullens and was very active to help make the dream of music as a standalone subject a reality.

There are certainly many more in the details of the new law. I hope this “Cliff Notes” version will help you understand the key important changes. I will provide further updates on how the implementation of the new law will have direct impact music programs. For now… it is time to celebrate!

Robert B. Morrison is the founder of Quadrant Arts Education Research, an arts education research and intelligence organization. Morrison has helped create, found, and run Music for All, the VH1 Save The Music Foundation, and, along with Richard Dreyfuss and the late Michael Kaman, the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. He may be reached directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 



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