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ESSA offers opportunities for the arts

By Elizabeth Tish

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) officially replaced No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as the guiding, major federal education law in December of 2015. Since implementing ESSA takes time, ESSA’s changes will start taking effect during the 2017-18 school year. ESSA includes several opportunities for states and local school districts to utilize flexible federal funds to provide students with afterschool and summer learning programs, STEM learning, physical activity, and arts education.   

The Arts Education Partnership, working with the Education Commission of the States, recently released ESSA: Mapping Opportunities for the Arts. The new resource can help school and community based afterschool providers and advocates understand how ESSA opportunities can support arts education that contributes to a well-rounded student education.  

Opportunities for the arts in Title I programs

The programs of ESSA's Title I, Part A are designed to ensure that all students have access to a high-quality education. The evidence-based programs supported by Title I funds assist students who are academically at risk, and these programs help close the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and those who enjoy more resources. There are many opportunities to include arts education opportunities that help achieve these goals in Title I, Part A:

State plans. Each state must submit an accountability plan to the Department of Education each year, including at least one indicator of school quality or student success beyond student achievement, graduation rates and English proficiency. This means that states could choose to include an arts-related indicator, such as the number of arts course offerings, the percentage of high school students enrolled in arts courses that provide postsecondary credit, or the proportion of certified arts educators to students.

Local Education Agency (LEA) plans. To receive Title I funding, a district must submit a plan to the state education agency that describes how it will identify inequities in educational opportunities and help close the achievement gap for all students, including a description of how the district will provide a well-rounded education. A district can choose to provide a description of its arts education programs and the role of those programs in providing all students a well-rounded education. LEAs can opt to use their Title I Part A funds to support out of school arts programming as well. 

Schoolwide Programs. To be eligible for schoolwide program funds, schools must have at least 40 percent of their students identified as coming from low-income families and create a schoolwide plan which embraces whole school reform. As a part of a well-rounded education, these plans may incorporate the arts as strategies to provide all students the opportunity to achieve.

Targeted assistance schools. Schools that do not meet the poverty threshold for schoolwide programs can use Title I funding to create programs targeted to help academically at-risk students meet the state’s academic standards. The arts, as part of a well-rounded education, can be included as a potential strategy for meeting the objectives set by schools for the Targeted Assistance Schools programs, using the traditional school day or out-of-school time.

Parent and family engagement. Engaging the families of students is an important aspect of ESSA and appears in several areas of Title I. Examples of family engagement using the arts might include: incorporating arts programming in a back-to-school night, schools providing parents with expectations for their children in arts classes, or encouraging parents to work with their schools in developing schoolwide plans that value the arts as a strategy in closing the achievement gap.

To learn more about ESSA and the arts, read the full report and visit this webpage for additional resources on topics such as accountability, assessments, and state plans.  Have more questions about how ESSA affects afterschool? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions on 21st CCLC and ESSA.

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learn more about: ESEA Federal Policy Arts