Policy Update: NAfME Analyzes New ESEA Bill

Senator Tom Harkin (Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced the Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013, a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Harkin will hold a markup of the bill, which has been co-sponsored by every  Democratic member of the HELP Committee, starting June 11th.

Read the bill 

According to Christopher Woodside, Assistant Executive Director, Center for Advocacy & Public Affairs for the National Association for Music Education (NAFME), nine committee Democrats support the legislation, while no committee Republicans have offered support, up to this point.

After reviewing the legislation, Woodside urged focus on several key areas of language, which he said are “mostly good.” However he added, “The bill does not address what they refer to as “non-tested subjects” in Title II where teacher evaluation lives—instead, they leave that up to the locals to decide.”

He added, “The legislation does, however, maintain, as part of the application for the grant for the well-rounded program and therefore a stipulation of funding, that the eligible entity must provide an analysis of the LEAs ability to deliver high-quality instruction and provide professional growth and improvement systems, including teacher qualifications, effectiveness, knowledge and skills.”

Further NAfME analysis of the bill reveals:

• In Part C of Title IV, the Well-Rounded program, “music,” specifically, is now listed as an enumerated covered subject.

• In the Expanded Learning Time (ELT) section, music and the arts are encouraged as allowable uses of funds (and are part of the definition of expanded learning time in Title IX) [though Woodside noted that “music and the arts are listed as ‘enrichment’ in this section, which is troubling and in direct conflict with the arts’ status as a core academic subject.”]

. • In the 21st Century Learning section, music and the arts are encouraged as allowable uses of funds

• In the Programs of National Significance section, the language states: “Support model projects and programs that encourage involvement in the performing and visual arts for” a) “persons with disabilities” b) “children, youth, and educators”

• A new teacher evaluation section has been added, but it is entirely focused upon a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education

• In Title I, a new reference to “creative arts” – as appears in context: “the State educational agency, the State shall complete a review, and revise or create, as necessary, the State’s early learning guidelines for young children in order to promote developmentally appropriate, high-quality programs.  Such guidelines shall—(II) be developed, as appropriate, in all domains of child development and learning (including language, literacy, mathematics, creative arts, science, social studies, social and emotional development, approaches to learning, and physical and health development) for each age group;”

• In the Promise Neighborhoods section, Local Education Agencies (LEAs), charter schools, and institutions of higher education are cited as eligible for “partnership grants” that will facilitate activities including ‘‘providing expanded learning time, which may include the integration and use of arts education in such learning time”

• In this ESEA proposal, the arts are, once again, listed as a core academic subject of learning

Woodside said, “With respect to the areas of legislation where we have concerns, we will continue working with key HELP staffers in order to promote additional changes.  In addition, NAfME plans an advocacy campaign between now and the markup on June 11th.

He added, “These important updates to the ESEA proposal from 2011 indicate the music education community’s growing federal footprint on Capitol Hill, and remind us of the potential for influencing change that we can make as a music education family, when we all come together.  While the road ahead remains daunting, this is an important first step in laying down new national markers for music education.  We must continue our work as a community of advocates.”

Other interested parties are weighing in as well

 Education Week notes that:

“In order to tap Title II dollars, districts and states would have to do teacher evaluations based in part on student outcomes, including achievement and growth. Other measures, such as educator observations, would also have to factor in. Districts and states would use this information to help teachers improve their practice and to ensure that good teachers are distributed throughout the district—but not necessarily for big personnel decisions, like salaries and firing. (That’s a difference from the waivers, in which evaluations must be used for personnel decisions. Under the bill, it appears to be optional.) And, a hefty portion of district Title II dollars—20 percent—would go to professional development at the lowest-performing schools.”


“The bill also stops short of mandating that districts use test scores in teacher performance ratings. Over the past two years, many states have imposed teacher evaluation systems based in part on standardized test scores. The measures were introduced to qualify for federal grants or waivers issued by the federal Department of Education, which has relieved 37 states from the provision of No Child that requires all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014,” Education Week concluded.

The New York Times quoted Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who praised Harkin’s bill for “backing off some of No Child’s most rigid requirements.”  Weingarten said of the bill, “It has a lot more flexibility than current law so that test scores are not the be-all, end-all for either students or teacher evaluations.”


Roz Fehr, NAfME Managing Editor for News, June 6, 2013. © National Association for Music Education