Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) - Arts as Part of a Well-Rounded Education

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On December 10, 2015 President Barack Obama signed S.1177, Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a bipartisan bill which supports the principle of educating the "whole child." While the new act shrinks the federal role in education reform and hands more decision-making to the states, arts education advocacy at the state and local level will be more critical than ever. Important to note is that arts and music are included in a definition of a "well-rounded education" - a term that has replaced the current definition of "core academic subjects," which had included the "arts." The language also allows for the addition of dance, theatre and digital media to be included under the term "any other subject" that provides students with an enriched educational experience.

The ESSA 18 month implementation plan continues with the U.S. Department of Education moving forward with new regulations that will govern state plans and accountability systems. AEMS joined 51 national and state arts and arts education organizations in filing joint comments on ESSA. There were over 21, 000 comments posted on the site. The letter’s main focus was to ensure that all of the arts are included in the well rounded education and therefore defining “arts” is imperative in the language.

It is critically important in all future regulatory and non-regulatory guidance that the Department uses “arts” and not “art” to avoid the misperception that the reference is solely to the visual arts. Moreover, as part of the legislative record and clear intent of the Senate, S. Rept. 114-231 clarifies that the term “arts” is meant to encompass all forms and disciplines of the arts: For the purposes of this definition, the term ‘arts’ may include the subjects of dance, media arts, music, theatre and visual arts, and other arts disciplines as determined by the State or local educational agency.

The full document can be downloaded here.


Check out The Arts Help Achieve Multiple Measures of Success (From Americans for the Arts) - Compilation of research that supports the arts as a strategy to improve your state’s most pressing measures of success.

Check out ESSA Resources from the Education Commission of the States and the Arts Education Partnership here.

Check out ESSA and Arts Education - 7 Basics to Know from Americans for the Arts here.

More information about the implications for arts education can be downloaded here.

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