The Editorial Staff
Arts education in the United States could be looking at some very significant, constructive changes.
After almost 200 amendments and several controversial provisions, the Senate approved the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177) by a vote of 81-17 on July 16, 2015. Introduced by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the bipartisan bill reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which expired in 2007.
This bill is particularly noteworthy because the full Senate hadn’t considered any K-12 legislation since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001.
Due to No Child Left Behind’s emphasis on testing in reading and math, schools’ arts programs have experienced significant complications in the past decade, including reduced instructional time and decreased funding. This narrowing of curriculum set in motion by No Child Left Behind is harmful to the U.S. education system, and it is a problem the Every Child Achieves Act can correct.
The U.S. House of Representatives successfully cleared its own ESEA reauthorization, the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) the week prior. The waiting continues for the pending conference committee process between the chambers to begin a final bill that can be signed into law.
The Every Child Achieves Act retains the arts, including music, dance, theater, media arts and visual arts, as core academic subjects. In fact, the Senate bill contains 11 arts-friendly provisions.
One noteworthy provision is that “core academic subject education activities” now qualify to be funded by the Local Competitive Grant program.
The Senate bill also aims to strengthen arts education at the district and state level by providing state educational agencies opportunities to describe how they plan to “encourage the offering of a variety of well-rounded education experiences to students.”
Additionally, the arts are authorized under local education agency activities as a means of not only strengthening students’ artistic skills, but also their classroom engagement, conflict resolution abilities and problem solving skills.
School plans must include a description of how they will serve students and how they will utilize resources “such as support for programs, activities, and courses in core academic subjects to help participating children meet the challenging State academic standards.”
In order to improve students’ academic performance, the bill states that it will increase “the ability of local educational agencies, schools, teachers, principals, and other school leaders to provide a well-rounded and complete education for all students.”
The bill also introduces a literacy and arts education program. Similar to the U.S. Department of Education’s current Arts in Education program, this provision was added by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and supported by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA).
The power of the arts is that they serve as vehicles for expression of a wide range of human emotions. Visual and performing arts not only move individuals emotionally, but they also activate and stimulate human intellect. Experiences in music, theater, dance and visual arts classes are significant to students’ education because they develop both independence and collaborative skills.
Experiences in arts classes also serve as a means of self-expression, improve academic achievement, enhance critical and creative thinking abilities and enhance cultural awareness and appreciation. It aids in the development of cognitive abilities, such as reading comprehension, as well. These classes not only help students develop artistic skills, but they will also contribute to students’ development into open-minded and creative individuals.
How can the education system be expected to create a brighter, more innovative future if schools cannot provide students with opportunities to cultivate their creative minds?
There is no denying that the arts are imperative to students’ education. With the Every Child Achieves Act, the United States could be one step closer to being able to provide all of our nation’s children, regardless of socioeconomic status, a more complete, well-rounded education.