Guide to ESSA

EdTA’s ESSA Guide to Theatre Education Opportunities

The authorization of a new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act ushered in a new era regarding the role of the federal government in administering education in the United States. The new law, entitled the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), replaces 2001’s No Child Left Behind Act. Fundamentally, the intent of this new iteration of ESEA (first signed into law in 1965) remains the same: to provide supplemental funds and programs for low-income students and to enable State and Local Education Agencies (LEAs or school districts) to improve the access and quality of elementary and secondary education. ESSA has the same goals, but significantly curtails the federal government’s role in education and instead allows states to set their own standards and accountability systems.

ESSA 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. The “well rounded” language, replacing NCLB’s core subject area definition of academic areas, is key to understanding where and how in the law theatre education can access federal funds to ensure equal access to our discipline. In every instance where the term “well rounded” or “music and the arts” appears in the law, there is potential funding that can tapped for theatre education. We’ve put together the ESSA Guide to Theatre Education Opportunities to help EdTA members and their state leaders understand the law and how theatre can be part of its implementation in the coming years.

The guide details how theatre educators can ensure that students receive a well-rounded education—as defined by ESSA—no matter their circumstances, addressing specific sections of the law and articulating opportunities and strategies that can be applied. Among other things, attention is given to:

  • Availability of Title I programs to provide supplemental funds for a well-rounded education.
  • Titles I, II and IV to support professional development for theatre educators.
  • Flexible Accountability Systems that require states to include multiple progress measures in assessing school performance, such as student engagement, parental engagement and school culture/climate.
  • Protection from “pull out” practices in which students are withdrawn from the classroom, including theatre and arts, for remedial instruction.

The guide is divided into two parts: Opportunities for Theatre Educators explains areas of ESSA and its associated Title areas in which theatre educators can access funding or advocate on behalf of their program on a school or district level; and Opportunities for State Theatre Education Associations articulates state-wide funding options, and areas of the law that state leaders need to be aware of, such state report cards, committee opportunities, and evaluation, all of which can be a factor in how theatre education is regarded and delivered by EdTA members in individual states.

This guide was adapted from the National Association for Music Education document, ESSA Implementation and Music Education: Opportunities Abound.