In The Trenches: The Every Student Succeeds Act and What’s in it for YOU! (But Only if You Act!)

Mike Lawson • Commentary • August 15, 2016

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Earlier this year I wrote about the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) with some general ideas of how this could impact music education. Today we are going to get a bit more specific and focus on what is in it for YOU.

The most important take-away from this article for you is this: How you benefit from ESSA will be largely determined at the STATE and LOCAL level. That’s right. Just because the new law has lots of great things for music and arts education… it really is up to the states on how they will implement the law. Understanding who is making these decisions and the process for weighing in is the most important takeaway.

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.

Now that No Child Left Behind is no more, we want to be sure that music and arts education are not left behind in your own state! The fundamental key to everything that follows is to understand this:

L to R: NAMM President Joe Lamond and Richard Wilson Riley present the SupportMusic Champion Award to Senator Lamar Alexander who introduced the ESSA bill.

Music and arts education are included in the definition of 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.

This is important because every place in the new law that references “well-rounded subjects” is a reference that includes music education!

Opportunity One: State Plans

Every state is required by the new law to develop a plan on how they intend implement the new law. There is a lot of flexibility since the undergirding philosophy was to reduce the federal intervention in education and return more authority and decision making to the state. So…it is up to the STATE to tell the Feds what the plan is.

Now some people will say states will wait until the U.S. Department of Education finishes developing the regulations to support the new law. This is nonsense! States have already started to develop plans so NOW IS THE TIME to understand what is happening in YOUR state!

That means teams will be assembled by the State Department of Education in conjunction with your state board of education. People will be appointed to these teams. Having a music/arts advocate on the team would be a huge benefit…or at least have someone who is willing to help support music/arts related items to be included in the plan.

One of the first people to contact is your State Education Agencies Director of Arts Education (SEADAE). Yes… that is one heck of a title. What it stands for is the person who is employed by your state department of education with responsibility for arts education. To find your SEADEA rep look here:

This will be a key contact since they will have an inside view of what is going on with the state plans and will be in a position to help advance music/arts friendly ideas for inclusion in the plans.

Opportunity Two: Specific Additions for the State Plans

Once you have an inside connection you are now able to make some suggestions as to what might be considered for inclusion in the state plans.

Here are some ideas based on our work here in the Garden State (New Jersey):

A. STATE ACCOUNTABILITY FORMULA – Every state will be required to develop an accountability formula that music include test measures for language arts literacy and math. They must also develop additional measures of their choosing to help measure other aspects of a “well-rounded education” which includes in the definition music and arts education. Therefore, one simple thing to ask would be to include music/arts education metrics in the new accountability formula developed in response to ESSA. Greater visibility into access and participation leads to great access and participation!

ASK: Include Arts Education access and participation measures as part of the state accountability requirements to meet the new ESSA under “other indicator determined by the State.” (ESSA Title 1 Part A Section 1005)

B. PARENT AND FAMILY ENGAGEMENT: Another aspect of the new law is designed to encourage greater levels of parent and family engagement. States are supposed to provide guidance to local districts on these issues. Can any of you think of ways music education might enhance parent and family engagement with schools? I sure can! Heck this is right in our wheelhouse so let’s take advantage of it!

ASK: We request that state guidance on Parent and Family Engagement include examples of how music and arts education supports and contributes to parental and family engagement. (ESSA Title 1 Part A Section 1010)

C. TITLE I TARGETED ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS AND STATE PLANS: Title I funding and use to support music and arts programs that help attain Title I goals has been a topic of debate for the past decade. Recent efforts in California and Arizona have lead to the loosening of the purse strings on how these funds may be used with the arts. ESSA explicitly allows for music and arts education strategies be used for Title I outcomes. But to make this happen at the state level the State Department of Education Title I officer needs to buy into the idea and the state plan needs to include models of how the arts may be sued to help districts envision the use of the arts for Title I goals. Music/Arts advocates need to meet with the State Title I officer as well as get arts education included into the state Title I plan. This means more money!

ASK: Ensure that state guidance on Targeted Assistance Programs include examples of how music and arts programs can be utilized to help children meet challenging state academic standards and to meet Title I outcomes. Include arts education in the state plans for Title I. (ESSA Title I, Part A Sections 1005 and 1009)

D. DISTRICT LEVEL PLANS: Just as states need to develop plans…so do the districts. Having a state plan that encourages districts to include arts education strategies just provides another reminder about the role of the arts in ESSA. With this support it will be up to individual advocates at the DISTRICT level to ensure local plans include the arts… that means YOU have the chance to get your parents involved in the development of local plans. This is where the rubber meets the road…direct impact on YOUR program.

ASK: Encourage the inclusion of arts education strategies in district level planning including plans required to receive federal funding and local strategic planning. (ESSA Title IV, Sections 4108 and


Opportunity Three: Other Items of Note

Items of note for music education in the law not outlined above include:

· 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.

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

There are a lot of people, organizations and resources at your disposal so be sure the check them out. They include:

• Everything ESSA, National Association for Music Education:

• Full Legislative Analysis of All Key Music and Arts Provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act, National Association for Music Education:

• US Department of Education Transition to the Every Student Succeeds Act – Frequently Asked Questions: http://1.usa. gov/1U49424

• Your state NAfME organization

• And the SupportMusic Coalition at

Hopefully these easy to understand ideas will help you jump-start your efforts or provide ideas for you to share with other leaders in your state.

But do not dawdle… things are already underway and you want to be sure that music and the arts are not left behind in your own state!

Robert B. Morrison is the founder of Quadrant Research, an education research and intelligence organization specializing in arts education. In addition to other related pursuits in the field of arts education advocacy, Mr. 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.

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