Every Child Achieves: It’s Time for the Second Act

Posted by Susan Riley, Sep 18, 2015 0 comments

Anyone who has ever watched a play or a musical knows that there are two acts.  This summer, legislation moved forward to transform the current Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) for the first time in over 14 years.  The storyline from the first act has been filled with twists and turns with the arts seemingly being a cautionary tale in its wake.  So, what can we expect in the second?

Setting the Scene

We opened our story in 1965 with the groundbreaking Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  This original law was meant to provide more equity to schools across the country.  In 2002, we saw the revamp known as No Child Left Behind enter the scene with an “era of accountability” at its core. Testing - lots of testing - became the new normal. Schools were required to issue testing in reading and math so that we could get a measurement of their success or failure.  And ever since, the law has received nothing more than patches along the way. 

Cut to this summer and enter a new bill, the Every Child Achieves Act. This proposed legislation acts as a kind of plot twist for our story. We finally have the opportunity to course correct, learn from the successes and failures of the past 14 years and create something that is more reflective of what our students, teachers, and schools really need. Isn’t that what artistry is? Creating, sharing, reflecting and revising our work? 

No Child Left Behind’s era of testing caused schools to cut funding for arts programs in a short-sighted attempt to bolster reading and math programs.  We’ve learned from those mistakes and many schools have started to reinvest in efforts to provide both dedicated arts time back into the schedule and to integrate the arts when appropriate throughout the school day. This bill finally affords us the ability to move out of Act I and into Act II having learned that we must focus on the whole child in order to ensure every child has an opportunity to achieve.

A Balancing Act

It has taken quite a bit of effort to get this far, however, and Act II may still have its own swell of drama.  In the original iteration of the new bill, the arts were no longer explicitly named as a core subject area (one of the few helpful items for the arts in the NCLB version). National and local arts organizations and community members fought hard and won that back in the current version as an important foundational piece of every child’s education. We must remain vigilant throughout the process to ensure that key items like this remain in the final presentation of the law.  Note: you can follow along with adjustments to the bill with this amendment tracker from NafME.

Most closely watched, however, is the shift taking place to move educational implementation back to the states and local jurisdictions. This includes controversial teacher evaluation systems and the kinds of testing that will be expected. For example, in the new bill, there are still provisions for testing in schools. But now those tests can take a variety of formats, including portfolios, extended projects and performances. We want our children to succeed, but these provisions demonstrate that success can and should look different for each child and in each content area. 

Another area we’re all interested in is the funding and allocation of resources sections.  In the new bill, school systems have more flexibility to use funding for professional development for teachers and leaders and for research-based teaching methods that work. That’s great news for the arts, given the new research from the Turnaround Arts Initiative. Their recently released report has found incredible results when using direct arts instruction and an integrated arts approach.

Before the Curtains Close

There is a great line in the comedic movie Grown Ups from the character Gloria that captures an important lesson:

“In life the first act is always exciting. The second act... that is where the depth comes in.”

We’ve had our share of excitement in education - particularly arts education - with mandates and politics and the ever-swinging pendulum of policies. It’s time for the second act to take over.  It’s time to take all we’ve learned and provide true depth for our students, teachers and communities. Our children deserve no less and the arts can set the stage. Our time is now.

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