Inside ESSA: What It Means for Arts Studies

Managing Editor

There’s been a lot written about the new flexibility afforded states and districts under the Every Student Succeeds Act. A new report suggests that added leeway may pay dividends for arts education, and it offers a de-facto guide to the sections of the federal statute that may benefit that area of the curriculum.

Arts education is an area that supporters say tends to get kicked around and neglected when budgets are tight, and when schools are focused on improving scores on high-stakes tests in core academic areas.

The report, which is being periodically updated as ESSA implementation unfolds, was released this week by the Education Commission of the States. It says opportunities for new funding and support for the arts come in sections of the law such as Title I, Part A, and in the sweeping statute’s overall emphasis on promoting a well-rounded education and giving states and districts freedom to choose how to do it.

How states and districts make use of the leeway provided by the law, in supporting the arts or focusing on other priorities, has implications for the K-12 market and companies trying to gauge policymakers’ priorities.

“ESSA provides quite a few opportunities for the arts, as well as some of the other aspects of a well-rounded education,” said Scott Jones, a senior associate with the Arts Education Partnership, a research center within ECS, in an interview.

Some states have already made clear their intention to support the arts through the ESSA framework. As of earlier this year, when 12 states had turned in state accountability plans under the law to the U.S. Department of Education, 60 percent of those plans addressed access and participation rates in arts education, according to a post published by ECS and authored by Lynn Tuttle, of the National Association for Music Education.

ECS, a research organization based in Denver, is revising the report continually to reflect new details of ESSA implementation and their implications for the arts.

States are required to submit accountability plans to the U.S. Department of Education explaining their plans to improve student achievement under the law. At least one indicator of school quality must focus on non-academic factors, such as a school climate or advanced coursework. The arts can serve as an “asset” in addressing those areas, and states can adopt art-related indicators to measure school quality and student success, ECS argues.

Arts-focused measures, for instance, can include the number of arts courses offered; the percentage of high school students enrolled in those classes; and the ratio of certified arts educators to students, ECS says.

ESSA also includes requirements for districts to engage parents (the law’s predecessor, No Child Left Behind, had a similar mandate). The arts can be included as part of strategies to engage parents, the ECS report says, such as by incorporating arts programming into back-to-school nights or broader parent-engagement strategies.

The report also takes note of the block grants created under Title IV, Part A to support a well-rounded education, safe and healthy students, and the effective use of technology.  Districts must conduct needs assessments to identify priorities and spell out how it will address gaps in those areas. (It remains unclear how much funding will be provided for that section of the law over time.)

“The focus on integrating across subjects provides numerous opportunities for the arts in education,” the report says, “particularly in the area known as STEAM, which is specifically referenced in the law.”

Check back on Marketplace K-12 for our updates on ESSA policy and its implications for companies and other organizations doing business with schools.

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