February 2017

Last month marked the deadline for the public to submit feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education about its state plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA is the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is the national education law dedicated to an equal education for all students. ESSA empowers states and districts by emphasizing local control.

Taking into account stakeholder feedback gathered from numerous town hall meetings (including feedback provided after a convening of arts education leaders at the Tennessee Arts Commission’s Collective Impact Conference last summer) and an online platform, six working groups wrote Tennessee’s plan for ESSA to be submitted to the federal government this spring with full implementation beginning in the 2017–2018 school year.

The state’s draft ESSA plan addresses requirements of standards, accountability, and assessment and outlines five priorities including:

  • Early Foundations & Literacy – Building skills in early grades to contribute to future success
  • High School & Bridge to Postsecondary – Preparing significantly more students for postsecondary completion
  • All Means All – Providing individualized support and opportunities for all students with a focus on those who are furthest behind
  • Educator Support – Supporting the preparation and development of an exceptional educator workforce
  • District Empowerment – Providing districts with the tools and autonomy they need to make the best decisions for studentsRegarding the arts, the 300-page document references stakeholder input that included the arts and music as areas to consider for expansion of curriculum and course offerings. The plan indicates that districts and schools have the flexibility to use Title IV grants through the Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) program to offer a well-rounded education, with the arts and music specifically recognized as components of such in ESSA. Districts and schools have the option to identify the arts and music as areas for improved access or additional resources under SSAE. According to the plan, if districts choose to include the arts and music for proposed district spending, then required district needs assessments must include the arts.Another area where the arts are highlighted is under the approved activities for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers which are designed to provide academic enrichment during out-of-school time. The plan indicates that such programs should connect to in-school programming and state academic standards and focus on:• Increasing reading and math proficiency
    • Strategies that will improve high school graduation rates and increase postsecondary access/success

• Providing intentional, hands-on approaches that increase students’ interest/engagement in STEM programming

National research shows that the arts benefit the above three focus areas as well as seamlessly connect with many of the five priorities of the state’s plan. With local control, districts and schools must recognize the arts as part of helping every student to succeed.

For more information, contact Ann Brown at ann.brown@tn.gov or visit tnartscommission.org/grants-at-a-glance/.

Ann Brown

by Ann Talbott Brown, Director of Arts Education Tennessee Arts Commission 



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