Federal Reforms Hit Sweet Note for Music Educators

Published February 2, 2016

Reforms passed by lawmakers in Congress as part of legislation that has replaced the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), a law that gave the national government significant influence on education and curricula at the local and state levels, include a reshuffling of the government’s education priorities.

The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA) was signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2015, replacing NCLB. Although ESSA and NCLB are similar, ESSA features the inclusion of art and music education as “core subjects.”

Changing Core Curricula

Shannon Kelly, director of advocacy and policy for the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), the world’s largest arts education advocacy organization, says including art and music education in government schools’ curricula is critical.

“Students have not been getting access to the broad and rich education they need to succeed in the twenty-first century workforce,” Kelly said. “The curricula restricted opportunities, rather than broadening them. There has been a groundswell of national pushback [from] teachers and families [who have] questioned the wisdom of NCLB.”

‘Well-Rounded Education’

ESSA expands support for music education in government schools, Kelly says.

“The expectation of the authorizers is for students to have a well-rounded education,” Kelly said. “We’ve moved from a sub-paragraph [in NCLB] to a bill that says a well-rounded education is essential to every student’s learning. With every major grant and funding opportunity, the expectation is that schools and local education agencies are expected to demonstrate how this money is being used.”

Long-Term Implications

Scott Sheehan, music department chair at Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School in Pennsylvania and president of the NAfME Eastern Division, says music education has a lasting impact on children’s lives.

“Music education is really poised to do great things for students for a long time,” Sheehan said. “We’ve got the tools in place, and now the backing of the federal government to provide outstanding experiences and opportunities.”

Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.