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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

interview with NAfME on new legislation (ESSA)

This week's post is going to be a bit different- I'm thrilled to share some important information on the new legislation that was recently passed called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaces the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). I was invited to interview Ronny Lau, Legislative Policy Advisor, and Lynn Tuttle, Senior Regulatory Policy Advisor, both from the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), about the impact that this new legislation can have for music education in the United States. You will find links to further information included below as well- I hope you will take the time to read about this, as these changes open up possibilities for real, positive changes in music education!

1.       For those who may not be aware of the new legislation, could you please summarize the key points of ESSA as a whole, and also how music is treated differently in ESSA compared to NCLB?
·         The passage of ESSA is a historic victory for music educators and advocates because it includes for the first time a specific and separate mention of “music” as an enumerated subject of the “Well-Rounded Education” provision. Although not a mandate, this language makes it clear that music education should be a part of every child’s education, regardless of their background or personal circumstance.  In addition, this critical stand-alone listing connects music to various provisions and programs throughout ESSA, providing increased opportunities to use federal funding to increase access of music education for all students.

·         Here are some of the many major funding initiatives that may include music:
i.                    Additional Flexibility in Title I Funding, including school-wide support and targeted assistance to Title I Schools to benefit students in most need.
ii.                  Funds from Titles I, II, and IV of ESSA may support professional development for music educators as part of a Well-Rounded Education.
iii.                Music now has access to a NEW pot of federal funds within Title IV – entitled ‘21st Century Schools,’ which may be used to support schools in their use of technology, in creating safe environments, and other Well-Rounded Educational opportunities.

2.       Will there be any changes to standardized testing as a result of ESSA? Will standardized testing in general decrease? Will there be standardized tests added for music?
·         ESSA does not impose additional accountability measures on music programs or require standardized testing.  States under ESSA will still have to create accountability systems that track student progress in tested subject areas such as reading, mathematics, and sciences, in order to get Federal dollars authorized under ESSA.  However, states have a lot more flexibility and ownership over what their accountability systems look like under ESSA in comparison to “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB).  

3.       Will there be any changes to teacher evaluations? Many teachers' evaluations, which tie directly into their employment, are currently based in part on students' test scores, usually in subject areas outside of music.
·         This is an excellent question - and one that needs to be watched state by state. Under ESSA, Congress forbids the federal government from mandating teacher evaluation systems, turning on its head the "Highly Effective Teachers and Leaders" evaluation requirements found in the ESEA Waiver process created by the U.S. Department of Education. So - the feds will no longer require this.

·         The question gets tricky, though, in that almost all states had to either enact legislation or administrative rule (such as State Board of Education rules) to create teacher evaluation systems which would meet the requirements of the ESEA waiver process. While the feds no longer require it, the states have put in teacher evaluation systems which are now built into law and education rule. So - we don't know what will happen. Will states continue to utilize the systems they have built under the ESEA Waivers and Race to the Top? Will they change their state level rule and law to ease up on some of these requirements - including the requirements of measures of student growth which don't fit the non-tested subject areas such as music? Will they keep their current rules and laws in place, but just ignore them - or not place as much emphasis on the rules? It's hard to say how this will play out. NAfME is hopeful, however, that with the easing of accountability rules, and the end of the waivers that states and districts will have more flexibility in terms of teacher evaluation, and time to determine the best ways to measure all educators, including those without state level valid and reliable measures of student growth.

4.       Are individual states now obligated to comply with ESSA, and if so, how long should teachers expect implementation at the state and district levels to take? If not, what steps need to be taken to ensure that this legislation is implemented at the state and district levels?
·         On August 1, 2016, ESSA will be in effect and serve as the “law of the land” for K-12 education, replacing No Child Left Behind.  Implementation and preparation for ESSA is already ongoing between the U.S. Department of Education and states, which NAfME continues to be deeply involved.

·         In order to ensure this legislation is implemented properly, this is where our educators come in and can get involved. Music educators should provide the resources and materials to their administrators from the NAfME Everything ESSA” webpage, in particular our “ESSA Implementation Guide.”   This will create a lot of open dialogue between the educator and administration regarding the ample amount of programs that are now available to music education. Because of this piece of legislation, the door is essentially wide open for open-dialogue on how to best use federal dollars to provide a broad and rich curriculum that includes music for students.

5.       How does the treatment of music in ESSA tie in with the Opportunity to Learn standards? Schools, districts, and states do not currently seem to be aware of these standards, let alone feel compelled to follow them. Will this change under ESSA?
·         The Opportunities to Learn standards (OTLs) tie in nicely with Title IV-A of ESSA. This chapter of the law, entitled "21st Century Schools," includes a provision for school districts to undertake a needs assessment for their well-rounded educational opportunities, which includes music. The OTLs are a wonderful tool by which a district can measure or assess what is going well in its music education offerings and where the district might need to do more. The needs assessment for music would then be added to the needs assessments from all the other well-rounded education subjects, and the district then prioritizes what areas need the most support in terms of supplemental Title IV-A funding. NAfME encourages music educators to get involved in the needs assessment work of their local school districts, and we certainly think the OTLs are a great place to start evaluating your district's music programs.

6.       Will ESSA affect the adoption and/or implementation of the National Core Music Standards in any way?
·         ESSA does not speak directly to state level adoption or revision of standards, outside of requiring states to have "challenging state standards" in the subject areas included in the accountability system - at a minimum, English, Mathematics and Science. With that said, the easing of the accountability system and the opportunity for "multiple measures" within state systems should create some breathing space for states to revise state level standards in subject areas beyond the tested subjects. Additional opportunities for revising state level music standards have been forthcoming as states are now 6 years into implementing Common Core State Standards, giving states time, funds and energy to focus on standards in other subject areas including music and the arts. The 2015-2016 school year has seen the most activity for revising state level music standards in more than a decade, with Idaho, Montana, Delaware, Illinois, Utah, New York, Connecticut, Kentucky, Alaska, and others either completing a revision process or getting one started.

7.       In what ways should the changes in ESSA affect the day to day lives of students and music educators?

·         Overall, ESSA will not make apparent changes to the day to day lives of students and music educators.  The most significant changes are those that are “behind the scenes” due to music’s “Well-Rounded” enumeration and the increased available funding opportunities for music programs.  Now the keyword here is ‘opportunities,’ as funding is not guaranteed, but this is where our educators come in. The door has never been more wide open for music educators to have a seat at the table to engage in high-level discussions with administrators.  That is why it is incredibly important for our educators to recognize the many programs that may benefit music when speaking their administrators. NAfME highly suggests all music educators and advocates check out our Everything ESSA” page for toolkits, resources, and implementation guides, which all may be provided to their administrators. 


  1. One of my biggest issues with all the wording is the use of "may." Music "may" get more funding. The funding directed to specific initiatives "may" include music. Evaluations "may" change.

    My (admittedly glum) prediction is that this won't mean a hill of beans to the vast majority of music programs in the US. If it ain't STEM, or on PARCC/SBAC/equivalent, it's Low Priority. *sigh*

    1. Being a naturally cynical person, I have to agree. I'm trying to hope for the best and prepare for the worst...#fermatafridays

  2. I hear you. There's still a lot of "maybe"s, for sure. While the realistic side of me knows that there is a good chance you are right, at least in the short term, if we don't believe that things can get better there's no reason to keep doing what we do! The truth is, this is a small step, but it is a step in the right direction. And sweeping changes like the ones we hope will be achieved are not going to come from other people- they are going to come from US. So the most important take-away for me is this: here are some new doors of opportunity that have been opened up for us as music teachers. What can I do now to help continue to improve the state of music education in the United States? I'm not going to sit around and wait for someone else to fix it for me. Turning "maybe"s "happened"s depends on us all! :)

  3. Wow, this is very timely and a lot more detailed than other posts I have seen related to the subject. Thank you for taking the time to put this together and get us in on the loop on what is happening. From the homeschooling perspective, this is very relevant as well because there are a lot of homeschoolers who will only go part time for classes like music that simply can't be replicated at home. That was my case- I only went to band, choir and the musicals. So this legislation effects everyone. Hoping for improvement. Thank you for sharing!

    1. That is a great point that I had not thought of- I'm glad you found the information useful!