Rules, Regulations, and Guidance! Oh My!

The ESSA implementation process is in full force as the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has released a number of items in just the past 9 days! With the fast-paced nature of releases by ED, it seems appropriate to refresh our knowledge of the regulatory process. 

education reform

Congress creates and passes the laws that govern the United States, but Congress also authorizes ED and other federal agencies to help put those laws into effect by creating and enforcing regulations.

After Congress passes a law, and the president signs it, the House of Representatives standardizes the text of the law and publishes it in the United States Code (U.S.C.). The U.S.C. is the codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States. 

Laws often do not include all the details needed to explain how an individual, business, state or local government, or others might follow the law. In order to make the laws work on a day-to-day level, Congress authorizes agencies like ED to create regulations.

ED researches the issues and, if necessary, proposes a regulation, also known as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The proposal is listed in the Federal Register (FR) so that members of the public can consider it and send their comments to the ED. The proposed rule and supporting documents are also filed in the ED’s official docket on

Generally, once ED considers the comments received when the proposed regulation was issued, they revise the regulation accordingly and issue a final rule. This final rule is also published in the FR and in ED’s official docket on

Once a regulation is completed and has been printed in the FR as a final rule, it is codified when it is added to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The CFR is the official record of all regulations created by the federal government.

Additionally, agencies like the ED issue non-regulatory guidance, which describes the agency’s current thinking on an implementation issue related to federal law. Guidance is not legally binding on the public or the agency itself, but is often used by states and districts to guidance decision-making (both programmatic and funding) for the programs supported by the federal law. 

So What did the ED Release?

Yesterday, October 20th, the ED released non-regulatory guidance to “help ensure young children from birth through third-grade get the strong start they need to achieve success in school and in life.  This is the ED’s first look at how ESSA can support our youngest learners.

education policy

Today, October 21st, the ED released non-regulatory guidance to help states, districts and schools provide students with a more well-rounded education under Title IV, Part A, Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (SSAE):

“The new grant program in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) focuses on safe and healthy students, and how technology can be integrated into schools to improve teaching and learning in addition to emphasizing access to a well-rounded education that includes a wide variety of disciplines – such as music, the arts, social studies, environmental education, computer science and civics.” –Department of Education Press Release

NAfME has been on the frontlines in lobbying Congress to fully fund SSAE.  In the coming days and weeks, NAfME policy staff will analyze the guidance, so please expect more to come. 

Additionally, the ED published regulations on governing programs that prepare new K-12 teachers, a long-delayed effort meant to ensure that graduates emerge ready for the nation’s classrooms. These regulations were published on Wednesday, October 12th.

The new regulations, at least five years in the making, are rules for Title II of the Higher Education Act (HEA). They require each state to issue annual ratings via accountability systems for teacher-preparation programs within their borders. The ratings aim to serve as a snapshot of how novice educators perform after graduation, offering prospective teachers and school district recruiters a more accurate picture of which programs are successful at producing quality educators and which are not.

NAfME’s policy staff has provided a brief analysis on how these regulations will affect teacher preparation for music educators.


Tooshar Swain, Policy Advisor, Center for Advocacy, Policy, and Constituency Engagement, September 26, 2016. © National Association for Music Education (