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Behind the Curtain

Every Student Succeeds Act has passed: NOW What?
By Susan McGreevy-Nichols
Posted on 4/4/2016 1:35 PM
We are all excited about the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law on December 10, 2015 by President Obama. ESSA is the successor to No Child Left Behind and it has taken eight years to get this law through legislation. ESSA is designed to provide all students a “well rounded” education, defined as:

the term ‘well-rounded education’ means courses, activities, and programming in subjects such as English, reading or language arts, writing, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, geography, computer science, music, career and technical education, health, physical education, and any other subject, as determined by the State or local educational agency, with the purpose of providing all students access to an enriched curriculum and educational experience. “ (Sec. 8002, pg. 807)

This means that as a “well-rounded” subject, the “arts” are eligible to use Title I, Title II and Title IV funds, ensuring equitable access to a complete education for all students. The arts are authorized to access federal funds that can be used for professional development and programming that provides access to, and opportunities for, a well-rounded education for all students. Federal ESSA funds will be distributed to states in large block grants. This is all good news, but to quote President Obama, “Now the hard work begins. Laws are only as good as the implementation.”
Here are two specific points that I want to bring to your attention:
1) The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) has been given a year of planning! State plans are due 2016-2017 to be implemented 2017-2018. The ESSA bill reduces the federal role in education reform and gives more decision-making to the states; arts education advocacy at the state and local level will be more important than ever. TAKE ACTION: Find out who is in charge of the federal education funds at the district and state level. State arts organizations can help states with their plans. Dance educators need to be at the table as districts conduct needs assessment. STAY INFORMED! GET INVOLVED!

2) As I am sure you have noticed in the definition of “well-rounded education,” music is listed as a separate discipline. Although I cannot fault music education advocates for getting this wording included in the definition, it is potentially harmful to the other disciplines, particularly dance and theatre. Music and art have always been recognized as the arts disciplines in most schools. Even with the addition of the “s” on the word art, some states, districts and schools may conveniently interpret the word arts as visual arts, especially since music is listed as a separate entity. Even now in S1177 – 171 SEC. 4104. STATE USE OF FUNDS there is a reference to: “activities and programs in music and the arts”.

Let me give you an example of how this scenario has played out in California.

Single subject credentials in dance and theatre do not currently exist in the state of California. They are the only two subject areas with discrete standards that are not taught under their own single subject credential, but rather are subsumed under the physical education and English credentials. With the first wave of educational reforms in California in the 1960’s, distinct dance and theatre credentials were established under the Fisher Act of 1961. In the aftermath of the passage of the Ryan Act of 1970, however, these credentials were eliminated. Why, you ask? Because of a typo! The story goes the “s” accidentally got left off of arts and music during bill revisions, leaving art and music. Charlotte Motter, founder of the California Educational Theatre Association (CETA) related to CETA members her conversation with Congressman Leo Ryan in which he told her personally that when he wrote “art and music” into the language of the bill, he intended the language to cover both theatre and dance as well. Unfortunately this could not be verified, as Congressman Leo Ryan was shot to death in 1978 while investigating concerns about Jim Jones’s People Temple. Motter predicted the newly formed Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) would never interpret the bill language to include theatre and dance. She was right, and so it has been for the last 40+ years.

Luckily, through the efforts of the Arts Education Working Group, a committee of Americans for the Arts on which NDEO serves, a refinement of the arts listing in the “well-rounded” definition that was submitted in May 2015 has been approved to be included in the Senate HELP Committee Report relating to the Every Child Achieves Act (S.1177). The report is final and has been posted (p.52) and states:

Core Academic Subjects: ECAA expands the current law definition of core academic subjects to also include writing, engineering, computer science, music, physical education, and any other subject determined by the State or school district. For the purposes of this definition, the term ‘‘arts’’ may include the subjects of dance, media arts, music, theatre and visual arts, and other arts disciplines as determined by the State or local educational agency.
According to Narric Rome, Vice President of Govt. Affairs & Arts Education for Americans for the Arts, “Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act at the federal and state levels is built upon the legislative record, and this committee report language can be specifically referred to as the intent of the Senate in ensuring that all arts disciplines are supported.”

Still, it is essential that we never take for granted that everyone understands (or wants to) that dance is included as one of the arts! So a battle is won, but be assured there is always another to fight. It is still important for dance education to cover our “S”s!
Susan McGreevy-Nichols
NDEO Executive Director
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