ESSA provides a valuable opportunity to prioritize arts education

Colored pencils in a row

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which grants states greatly increased flexibility over how to measure school quality and student achievement, requires that states provide their students with a “well-rounded education.” As Brian Kisida, Bob Morrison, and Lynn Tuttle note in their new policy brief, “To elevate the role of arts education, measure it,” ESSA’s definition of a well-rounded education includes the arts and music. For arts education advocates, ESSA thus provides states with a valuable opportunity to prioritize arts education. Specifically, under the law, states can incorporate measures related to arts education in their new accountability plans.

Building arts education measures into these accountability plans may seem like a bureaucratic technicality, but this is not the case. As the authors note, “what gets measured gets done.” Reviewing the state ESSA plans submitted thus far, the authors find promising evidence that several states are already incorporating arts education into their accountability systems. States who have not done so previously could look to other states that currently incorporate measures related to arts education into their accountability systems, such as New Jersey and Connecticut, as models.

Further, the authors note that state longitudinal data systems (SLDS) can be a rich source of data for policymakers hoping to incorporate rigorous arts education accountability measures into their state plans. They offer several policy recommendations for how to use existing SLDS data effectively to incorporate arts measures and make a clear case for better data: “A persistent problem for arts education has been a lack of research, and much of this has been due to a lack of data.”

Policymakers will need to weigh several important political considerations when deciding how best to incorporate arts measures into their accountability systems. Nonetheless, the bottom line, according to the authors, is clear: “At the very least, most would agree more granular data is desperately needed to monitor trends in arts education, identify gaps across schools, and provide parents with valuable information.” To this end, their policy brief offers a helpful framework for states as they decide how to incorporate arts measures into their ESSA accountability plans.

The full piece is available online here.