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Every Student Succeeds Act: Title I funding and advocacy opportunities for theatre educators under the new federal law

By James Palmarini posted 01-04-2016 13:34


The new federal Every Student Succeeds Act  includes thirteen arts-friendly provisions that help improve the opportunity for theatre and other arts education for all students. Most importantly, the law asserts that arts education should be part of the well-rounded education of all students. In every instance where the term “well rounded” or “music and the arts” appears in the law, there is potential funding that can be tapped for arts education. That’s very encouraging news, but there is work to be done: ESSA puts much of the responsibility for delivering a well-rounded education in the hands of states and their school districts. There is no guarantee, for example, that your district will include theatre or other arts as part of their school-wide curriculum plan. While those schools where the arts have long-standing support are likely to continue to offer classes and receive financial assistance, low achieving and/or high-poverty schools may not feel it’s necessary to include arts education in their curriculum. As we all know, it students in those learning environments who often gain the most benefit from theatre and other arts education experiences.  Ensuring that all students have access to theatre and other arts education will take vigilance and advocacy on the part of educators, parents, and other arts education supporters. To do so, advocates will need to be well versed in the details of ESSA.


Towards that end, in this first of a series of short blogs drawn from the EdTA ESSA Guide to Theatre Education Opportunities, I’m going to review Title I areas in which theatre educators can access funding or use the language in the law to advocate on behalf of their programs on a school or district level. Title I, entitled “Improving Basic Programs Operated by State and Local Agencies,” includes the largest pool of federal funds dedicated to ensuring equitable access to a complete education for all students. There are also significant aspects of Title I that can be used as advocacy touchstones. I’m going to go through each Title I section of the law, though not necessarily in numerical order. For more details, visit our ESSA guide.

  • Section 1008 and 1009: Schoolwide Programs and Targeted Assistance Schools. These two sections detail the flexibility of Title I funds to support a well-rounded education, including theatre education. If you teach at a Title I school, the first thing you need to determine is whether it’s a Schoolwide or Targeted Assistance school. While there are many similarities between the two, there are also significant differences. Most importantly, in Title I Schoolwide programs, all students can receive additional instructional services as part of a comprehensive school reform effort; in Targeted Assistance programs, specific students are identified as most at-risk academically in reading and math and professional development focuses on staff who provide instructional support to these students. Under ESSA, if you teach at Schoolwide Title I school, your school will need to update its Title I plan to address all aspects of a well-rounded education, including the arts. Regarding Targeted Assistance programs, under ESSA’s predecessor federal education law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), those Title I funds were only available to support instructional services for students at risk in math or reading. ESSA allows Targeted Title I funds to be used for well-rounded instructional support. And here’s one other critical difference between NCLB and ESSA: Under the new education law, Title I discourages the practice of students being pulled out of regular classrooms—including theatre—to receive remedial instruction. This is something you may need to remind your principal about. 
  • Section 1010: Local Education Agency—Parent and Family Engagement.  Title I emphasizes the need to involve parents, family, and community members with schools as a way to build greater buy-in to the purpose and value of equal education opportunities for all students. Given theatre’s collaborative nature and long-standing audience building strategies, as your district and school undertake a revision to their Title I plans, consider learning more about your school’s current parental involvement strategies, and to suggest ways in which theatre can help improve schoolwide community engagement. This is an advocacy opportunity in which theatre can not only be at the decision making table, but to lead the way towards more equitable access to arts education for all students.  


  • Section 1006: Local Education Agency—Testing Transparency as part of Parents’ Right to Know. While ESSA significantly pulls back the frequency of assessments, there will still be state and district-mandated tests in the subjects of math and English. Title I now requires districts to publish a testing calendar of all such exams for every grade level. Aside from helping parents and students prepare, knowing the dates and frequency of these tests can help you better plan your in and after-school theatre activities for the year, including field trips, auditions, rehearsals, and performances. You may want to ask your curriculum supervisor about this calendar and whether or not it’s comprehensive.


  • Section 1112: Local Education Agency—Plans and Applications. Title I of ESSA asks that plans be submitted for approval by the state prior to receiving federal fund, including all activities that support a well-rounded education. The law also asks that parents, in particular parents of English Language Learners, know of the well-rounded education activities available for their students, such as theatre and other arts programs. Prior to the start of the 2016-16 school year, your district will need to update their Title I plan. Under Title I, the revised plan must address well-rounded education activities.  While music and visual arts are likely to be included in such a plan, you may have to aggressively advocate for inclusion of theatre. If there is a district arts coordinator, start by contacting this individual.  If there is no who seems to be advocating for theatre education as part of the Title I plan, volunteer to serve on the Title I planning committee. This might also be a good time to leverage your parent and community engagement, making sure that they are aware of theatre education opportunities and how they can help support it as part of the district’s well-rounded Title I plan.


Next time:  ESSA Title II—Preparing, Training and Recruiting High Quality Teachers, Principals or Other School Leaders, and Professional Development Opportunities in Titles I, II, III, and IV