U.S. Senate Proposal Provides Direction for Future of Arts Education

Posted by Narric Rome, Oct 31, 2011 0 comments

Narric Rome

On October 19 and 20, after many years of inaction, the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee began marking up the Senate version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization bill (last reauthorized by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002).

Americans for the Arts lobbied on several of these issues on behalf of its members and the legislation, as amended, has several items that are of interest to the arts education sector.

The bill offers new insights into the direction of federal education policy and how the arts can fit within it, including the following:

1) Arts education was retained as a “core academic subject” – ensuring that the arts maintains this designation is critical for eligibility to use federal funds locally.

2) The term “core academic subject” has been incorporated into far more programs than No Child Left Behind did. It now places core academic subjects, including the arts, as central to extended learning programs, “highly qualified teacher” qualifications, parental engagement programs, advanced placement and international baccalaureate programs, reading or language arts, and STEM initiatives. This is a giant leap from the diminutive position that “core academic subject” held in the No Child Left Behind Act.

3) A new program called Extended Learning was created to provide competitive grants to school districts to extend their school day – and the arts and music are among the specified reasons for this new program.

4) The Well Rounded Education Amendment, based on the Obama Administration “Blueprint” proposal, creates a single competitive grant program to provide support to: arts, civics and government, economics, environmental education, financial literacy, foreign languages, geography, health education, history, physical education, and social studies. The authorized funding level for this grant program would be $500 million – a set of similar programs currently receives $265 million this year. This amendment sustains direct federal support for arts education, which would have been terminated otherwise.

5) Among ten programs of “National Significance” is specific direction for the Department of Education to support “projects that encourage the involvement of persons with disabilities in the arts.”

6) The most substantial changes from current law in the legislation are: it ends Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in favor of a measure of “continuous improvement” and it no longer forces states and local school districts to create evaluation systems in order to receive funding for teacher and principal development. Both of these changes could reduce the “teaching to the test” and reverse the narrowing of the curriculum that has occurred since NCLB was implemented. It might also mean that art and music teachers could be evaluated in their subject area, if a state so chooses, instead of being evaluated on their student’s math and reading scores.

For more information about the hearing and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, download this memo.

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