Blog: The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 and what it means for Arts Education

Last month, after years of stalled negotiations and Congressional stalemates, President Obama signed into law a new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
So say good by to No Child Left Behind and hello to the new law, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This is an enormous victory for arts education advocates and anew day for arts education, with opportunities to use federal funding to increase access to arts education for all students, especially the most vulnerable. 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. The next effort must be to include a specific call out for Dance and Theatre. This expanded definition may be included in the Senate Committee Report to accompany the law.
Requirements for Well-Rounded Education: Schools will now be able to assess their ability to provide a well-rounded education, including arts education, and address any deficiencies using federal funds.
Assistance for Arts Education: The law includes a distinct authorization to promote 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 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. This is similar to what we have already implemented in New Jersey with the inclusion of the arts in our School Performance Reports.
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 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 arts education.
More Professional Development for Arts 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 after-school, 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 after-school arts programs, especially in lower-performing school districts and higher poverty areas.
There is certainly much more in the details of the new law. We hope this “cliff notes’ version will help you understand the key important changes. We will provide further updates on how the implementation of the new law will have direct impact here in New Jersey. For now… it is time to celebrate!
Bob Morrison
New Jersey Arts Education Partnership

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