Education Commission of the States Special Report: ESSA’s Well-Rounded Education

Scott D. Jones and Emily Workman – June 2016
ECS counts more than 20 references to a well-rounded education in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and so seeks to define that term in its report. Under ESSA, the academic subjects eligible for federal funding have been expanded from English, reading, language arts, science, civics, government, foreign languages, math, economics, history, arts, and geography to also include: writing, technology, computer science, engineering, music, career and technical education, and health and physical education.

States may add subjects of their own choosing to their individual definitions of a well-rounded education, adapting curricula to local needs. To improve student opportunities, ESSA’s Title IV Academic Enrichment Grants require districts receiving over $30,000 in grants to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment every three years to identify how the district can increase opportunities for students to access a well-rounded education. This will assist in serving student populations with distinct needs.

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Goodbye ‘Core Subjects,’ Hello ‘Well-Rounded Education’

Tim Walker – June 2016
Under NCLB, many argued there was a limited focus on only subjects with end-of-year assessments, namely English language arts and math. Under ESSA, states now have the flexibility to create their own definition of a well-rounded education, which can and should include multiple subjects outside the “core” areas of English and math.

Efforts to define the term “well-rounded” provide an opportunity for educators to voice their opinions on what exactly that entails. Policymakers need input from educators, or the improvements made by ESSA, including the well-rounded education clause, may not be fully realized.

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Arts Learning Keeps Toehold in ESSA

Jaclyn Zubrzycki – January 2016
While ESSA’s initial drafts did not specifically fund the arts, the final rules include the arts in its list of subjects that constitute a well-rounded education, making them eligible for federal funding. ESSA now includes $20 million in grants for art education and funds STEM integration. Some educators are concerned that the definition of a well-rounded education may end up excluding arts other than music and the visual arts. Ultimately, the funding support for the arts is up to state and local governments.

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See New Details on ESSA Funding for Healthy, Safe, Well-Rounded Students

Education Week – October 2016

In this piece, Education Week highlights the Dept. of Education’s recommendations on how funds can be spent for a “well-rounded education.” It also examines new guidelines for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program under ESSA. It explains that while part of a student’s educational experience can be comprised of music and arts programs, it can also can include “everything from foreign language courses to civics education to college and career counseling.”

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ESSA: Mapping Opportunities for the Arts

Arts Education Partnership and Education Commission of the States – October 2016

This report, from the Education Commission of the States and the Arts Education Partnership, offers school districts guidance on “mapping opportunities for the arts” under ESSA. The report identifies ways for states to “achieve goals” within the arts, “share promising examples” of how schools have used arts initiatives, and “provide additional resources for further investigation.” The report also includes a question and answer section focused on “the most pressing issues for the arts in education community to consider.”

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