ESSA offers opportunity to enhance art education

ESSA offers opportunity to enhance art education

(Colo.) State education officials from across the country are engaged in pulling together new school accountability systems as required under the new Every Student Succeeds Act. Although focus remains on student achievement under ESSA, a new report out suggests art education should be overlooked.

Policy experts at the Education Commission of the States issued a call to states to consider how art education can fit in under the new ESSA requirements.

A key agreement among Congressional leaders and the Obama administration in negotiation ESSA was to return to the states authority over how school performance would be evaluated. ESSA only requires that states include at least one indicator of school quality or student success beyond test scores, graduation rates and English proficiency. To fulfill this requirement, federal officials have suggested measures that describe student and educator engagement, access to advance coursework or school climate and culture.

Art education could also fit into the mix, commission experts said, by serving “as an asset in addressing each of these identified areas and, as such, a state could adopt arts-related indicators for its school quality or student success indicator.”

Examples include:

  • The number of arts course offerings;
  • The percentage of high school students enrolled in arts courses that provide postsecondary credit; and
  • The proportion of certified arts educators to students.

On the local level, districts are required under ESSA to develop their own plan that looks at how each will close the achievement gap and deal with educational inequities. For the first time, local educational agencies must also address how they will provide a “well-rounded” education.

Here again, the commission pointed out, is an opportunity to highlight art education.

“As the definition of a well-rounded education includes the arts, a district can provide a description of its arts education programs and the role of those programs in providing all students a well-rounded education when describing the instructional programs offered to Title I-eligible schools and populations,” the authors of the brief reported.

There are two other instances where ESSA can support art education–schoolwide programs and targeted assistance schools.

Under prior law–No Child Left Behind Act–districts were prohibited from spending on a program or service that benefitted an entire school site–both Title I students and non-Title I students–except under certain conditions.

ESSA allows more flexibility in the use of Title I money for schoolwide purposes by removing a requirement that 40 percent of a site’s students qualify as low-income. LEAs can get a waiver from the state allowing them to use Title I money regardless of the status of students.

Among the strategies suggested by the commission for schoolwide educational opportunities are:

  • Engaging the arts to improve students’ non-academic skills, such as self-efficacy or engagement;
  • Supporting student attendance and other non-academic indicators through increasing access and opportunities in the arts and other well-rounded educational subjects; and
  • Incorporating arts-based techniques in professional development programs to strengthen the effectiveness of educators in improving student learning outcomes.

ESSA provides an intervention system for schools that do not meet state performance standards, identified as Targeted Assistance Schools. The report authors point out that under ESSA, Title I funding can be used to create programs to help academically at-risk students meet the state’s academic standards.

“These programs can occur during the traditional school day or in expanded learning time,” they reported. “Newly allowed with the passing of ESSA, 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. These strategies can include in-school, afterschool and summer programs that engage arts focused learning in support of students meeting the state’s academic standards.”

Finally there is a lot of potential for art education to enhance LEA outreach to families–another priority of ESSA. Districts must establish, implement and annually review with parents and other stakeholders a policy for engaging families in the school and, through doing so, improve their children’s education.

The arts, as an effective strategy to engage families in the school, can be incorporated into these policies in a variety of ways, including incorporating arts programming in a back-to-school night or other broader parent engagement events, providing updates on arts education activities in parent newsletters, and including attendance at arts events as part of a parent engagement plan evaluation (Title I, Part A, Subpart 1, Section 1010).

  • In addition, the district must provide parents and families of English language learners (ELLs) with information on how they can support their children in learning within the well-rounded education subjects. For example, schools can provide parents with expectations for their children in arts classes, as well as strategies to encourage their children to practice and engage in creative activities at home (Title I, Part A, Subpart 1, Section 1006).
  • Finally, schools must include parents, educators and other impacted community stakeholders in the development of the schoolwide program plan. By finding out about their school’s process, arts educators, parents and others interested in engaging the arts in their school can participate in the development process and provide feedback to school leaders to help ensure that the school consider the arts as a strategy within the plan (Title I, Part A, Subpart 1, Section 1008).

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