This past week marks the beginning of historic changes in our education system here in the United States. With a 359 to 64 vote in the House, a 85 to 12 vote in the Senate, and a signature by President Obama, it is official that we now say goodbye to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and hello Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This reauthorization has been in the making for a long time (too long in my opinion) but has finally been achieved. This is a big win for public education, parents, and most of all the students!
Although created with good intentions of filling the gaps of our education system, the NCLB created under the Bush Administration, has proven to be flawed in many different ways:
NCLB promised to raise accountability among schools however, the testing mandates in turn have punished schools for not making “adequate yearly progress” leading to a toxic “teaching to the test” culture. This has also forced educators to focus their time and energy on preparing for tests in a narrow range of subjects, primarily English Language Arts and math. One other thing to note is the direct correlation of teacher evaluations and jobs tied to student test scores. This in my opinion, really took the joy out of teaching.
Stripping Curriculum Opportunities:
With the focus so much on testing in English Language Arts and math, other subject areas such as art, music, dance, theater, physical education, social studies, science among others have been left behind. Many schools saw deep budget cuts with the singular focus on improving reading and math test scores. More time devoted to testing and test prep, equals less time devoted to other subject areas. This in turn caused a sharp decrease in the use of cultural resources such as museums among others.
Erosion of Student-Centered Learning:
This brutal testing environment focused on command style teaching techniques, leaving little wiggle room for educators to teach to the whole child. The power of discovery in education was removed. This has often times led to other subject areas having to justify why they are core to the curriculum. Valuable subject areas such as the arts, have been brushed aside as they tend to focus on benefitting the child as opposed to improving test scores.
It is my hope that the new ESSA will reverse and improve these huges flaws NCLB created.
So what exactly does this law do? The powers of education have now been shifted back into the hands of the state and local governments which were shifted to the federal government under NCLB. Us as teachers in the school and parents at home see the day-to-day effects of these education policies. With that said, I agree, let us have a say in what works best for our children.
With these powers now back in the hands of the states, ESSA allows for the development of new learning standards created and enforced by the states. Here in New York, Governor Cuomo is calling for recommendations “to overhaul the Common Core system- to do a total reboot” as he urges for changes in how students learn and are assessed. He is putting out a call to bring together a task force that will be comprised of educators, teachers’ union representatives, school administrators and parents to help create and make recommendations for modifying the standards for New York so that they are more age appropriate, especially for the younger grades (kindergarten through 2nd grade). However at this time, there is little information about what these new standards will look like. The task force at present recommends that tests that are currently aligned with the Common Core, are not to be used to evaluate teachers and prohibit scores as being the primary decision factor in student promotion/placement until the 2019-2020 school year when new standards are expected to be in place.
So, how does this new law help dance education? This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but just a few things I wanted to highlight:
Support for a Well-Rounded Education:
In the past, federal funding had been reserved for “core curriculum” subjects which the arts according to the law have been eligible for such funding. However, for many across the country it was and still needed for arts educators to explain and advocate why the arts are core to the curriculum. The new ESSA supports what is considered to be a “well-rounded education” with a list of subjects that are to be within this category with the arts mentioned in this list. This is a huge win for dance and other arts disciplines to be listed and recognized as part of a holistic education experience by the law. We as artists know this, but it is important to have the support of the federal government in our corner!
More Funding for Arts Education:
The creation of the Assistance for Arts Education maintains arts education as a distinct funding stream. This grant will look to promote arts education for underserved and disadvantaged youth and encouraging schools to partner with cultural institutions such as museums, arts education organizations, and theaters. The new Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant will reserve 20% of its funding for a well-rounded education which specifically lists the arts as eligible for such grants. The Pre-School Grant program will for the first time include the arts as part of the “Essential Domains of School Readiness” which will allow funding for preschools to collaborate with local arts institutions. These are wins for cultural organizations which many of us work for with the idea for schools to be able to financial support the arts.
National Recognition of STEAM:
There is now a federal recognition of the integration of the arts into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education which many of us fondly refer to as STEAM (A is for Arts). This is a major breakthrough for arts education and the STEAM movement. For me, it’s a no-brainer that the arts be integrated into STEM as there is a sense of creativity in all of these subjects. There is a great commercial that I love because it truly shows the importance of STEAM in education and future careers.
Check out the video here:
These are all big wins for dance and the other visual and performing arts! And I hope that all these new efforts will have a positive effect on the arts and in education as a whole.
In addition to these things for dance education, there are a few other things that I would like to see implemented:
With the increase use of computers and other electronics, I personally feel that the handwriting of the new generation is horrible! I remember spending hours in schools learning how to write clearly, especially in cursive. I would like to see more time in school dedicated to improving our penmanship.
Educating the youth on manners:
For me, it’s the little things like “please and thank you” saying things like “excuse me” referring to adults with respect, and chivalry among our males. Often times I am disgusted when it is expected that someone move because they are in their way, or when there is an elderly or pregnant person standing and no young man dares to offer their seat. And it really bugs me when no one seems to hold the door for someone who is coming after them. It’s about being polite. It’s about having manners. These are life skills that will go a long way with our youth.
I once had the wonderful opportunity to observe some classes at a Aileycamp here in New York. In addition to dance classes, the children, ages 11-14 took classes in personal development and communication skills. I was amazed at how articulate these children were (especially in this age of social media where we don’t seem to communicate directly with people) and how they could think of ways to positively deal with conflict. I would like to see this modeled in schools across the country. Not saying it would solve our problems with violence and bullying among our youth, but it can definitely be of some help as it will allow children to be successful and well-rounded individuals.
For more information about Aileycamp, please visit their website here!
What are your thoughts and responses to the passing of the ESSA into law?