Music Education Policy Roundup – October 21, 2017

Read here for brief updates on policy developments affecting music education around the United States. These news items include federal, state, and local items that may be of interest to music educators, and are compiled periodically by Lynn Tuttle, NAfME Director of Content and Policy, and Tooshar Swain, NAfME Public Policy Advisor.






The One Simple Way to Help Poor Kids Stay in School

When middle-class kids stumble academically, their parents will often enlist pricey private tutors to get them back on track. No parent who can afford to intervene wants to risk their child falling behind or losing crucial tenths of a point off their class ranking. But that one-on-one remedy doesn’t exist for poor students. When they fall behind in subjects such as math, which depend on cumulative mastery of skills, they often stay that way. And the persistent failure of poor students to make up ground has become accepted as proof that no intervention—not even tutoring— can reverse the slide once a student has reached a certain age.


Women’s rights group sues DeVos over Title IX

A women’s rights group claims in a lawsuit it filed Thursday that the Trump administration’s Title IX guidelines violate the federal law banning sex-based discrimination.

The administration last month scrapped Obama-era guidance to schools on handling sexual harassment and assault. In its place the Department of Education issued a question-and-answer document that it said should serve as guidelines while the administration worked on a permanent replacement through a notice-and-comment process.


Attorneys general from 17 states sue DeVos over delay of for-profit college rules

Democratic attorneys general from 17 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday, accusing her of illegally delaying enforcement of a regulation meant to cut off funding to low-performing career college programs.

The lawsuit challenges DeVos’ decision earlier this year to postpone and scale back parts of the rule, known as “gainful employment,” while the Trump administration begins a process to rewrite it in the coming months.


Education Department warns of cyberattacks against schools

The Education Department on Monday urged schools and colleges to bolster their cybersecurity measures in response to what it said was a new type of online attack involving the release of sensitive data and threats of violence against students.  Cyber criminals are “seeking to extort money from school districts and other educational institutions on the threat of releasing sensitive data from student records,” Tiina Rodrigue, a senior adviser for cybersecurity at the department’s Federal Student Aid office, wrote in a memo to schools and colleges.


DeVos pitches new priorities for competitive grants

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday proposed new priorities for doling out funds through existing discretionary grant programs, including the expansion of school choice and the promotion of STEM and computer science.  It’s a familiar move by an Education secretary to advance certain policy goals. For example, former Education Secretary John B. King Jr. put forward a priority to increase socioeconomic diversity in schools. As a result, school districts applying for federal grants would get points for proposing projects that tackled segregation or concentrated poverty.


Education agency blasted amid student loan scam crackdown

Federal and state agencies are cracking down nationally for the first time on scams that gouge student loan borrowers, but critics say the U.S. Department of Education isn’t helping.  Prosecutors at the Federal Trade Commission, 11 states and the District of Columbia have filed 36 lawsuits and other legal actions against companies they say falsely promise debt relief, charging more than $95 million in illegal fees in recent years.  Consumer advocates and members of Congress welcome the ongoing crackdown announced Oct. 13. But they say the Education Department and its contracted loan servicing companies fail to steer borrowers toward appropriate repayment plans, exposing them to fraud.


Bill Gates has a(nother) plan for K-12 public education. The others didn’t go so well.

Bill Gates has a(nother) plan for K-12 public education. The others didn’t go so well, but the man, if anything, is persistent.  Gates announced Thursday that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation would spend more than $1.7 billion over the next five years to pay for new initiatives in public education, with all but 15 percent of it going to traditional public school districts and the rest to charter schools.  (When he said this, the audience at the 2017 conference of the nonprofit Council of the Great City Schools applauded, perhaps because many education philanthropists direct the bulk of their education giving on charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated. Gates supports them as well.)


Education experts share the best books they’ve read about teaching

We asked experts to name the best book they had read about teaching. A few are not about education at all.


Want Change In Education? Look Beyond The Usual Suspects (Like Finland)

In a tiny hamlet in Tanzania, children who have never been to school, and can’t recognize a single letter in any language, are about to start learning basic math and reading. They’ll do this with the help of a cutting-edge, artificially intelligent “tutor” who can hear what they are saying in Swahili and respond meaningfully.  In the slums of Bogota, Colombia, children play with special board games, dominoes and dice games that can teach them math and reading in a matter of months. Youth volunteers in the community help bring the games to younger children.


Data reveals a work in progress, education officials say

They may not seem encouraging, with roughly only half of test-takers across the state earning a score indicating they are meeting expectations. But local and state education leaders said they are seeing positive signs as they digest the results, released to the public Wednesday, from the first year of the state’s new MCAS test.  They also stressed that this year’s scores, for which schools will not be held accountable, should not be compared to past years’ testing results.



Visual music app helps autistic students, innovates music education (Virginia)

With a few touches to a screen, someone who has never played a musical instrument in their life can make and record a simple song.  Select some options and tap the screen a few times. It’s that easy.  The other upside to the ORO Visual Music app is that it helps autistic students, who tend to have difficulty socializing, connect with others through team exercise games.  Richmond resident Steve Van Dam, co-founder and CEO of Light the Music, developed the app with the company’s co-founder and COO, Outer Banks resident Craig Honeycutt.  Users see a blank screen with several tools to the side when they open the app. By clicking on one of the tool options, users can tap the screen and see a visual shape of colors appear while also hearing a specific musical sound. Each visual tool creates a different sound and some will have different octaves or tones if one taps in different areas of the screen.


Some Philly schools have rich arts programs, and others have none. How do you fix it?

To the fifth grader, it is that and more: a reason to attend and do well in class, and a chief joy in his life. “Music,” said Saamir, 11, “helps me when I’m mad or sad. I love it.”  Across the city, children have uneven opportunities to participate in arts and music programs — some schools are rich with them, and others have none. To afford more resources to children such as Saamir, the Philadelphia School District, the Neubauer Family Foundation, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education are releasing an exhaustive analysis of city schools’ arts programs Tuesday that shows where they are and how they operate.


Lake County Visitors Bureau annual meeting highlights arts education (Ohio)

It’s a time of change for the Lake County Visitors Bureau as new Executive Director Scott Dockus has hit the ground running, seeking a stronger focus on community engagement, natural resources preservation and educational outreach opportunities.  After the retirement in January of Bob Ulas, who lead the bureau for over 20 years, Dockus has undertaken forming partnerships with local arts institutes, schools and world-renowned musicians.


How Chicago Created Community College for Special Education Students

On an overcast afternoon in May, the gymnasium of an oppressively beige school building on Chicago’s South Side was teeming with giddy students. Southside Occupational Academy was about a month out from the end of the school year and its 268 students were preparing for the school’s first farmers market. They fidgeted restlessly, eager to get to work, ringing up cash registers, serving food they cooked themselves in the school’s kitchen, showing off pieces of art and screen-printed garments made in its studios.


Assessing the diverse array flurry of education-related bills signed by Gov. Brown (California)

The first year of Community College may be free to an additional 19,000 students under a new program called California College Promise, established in a bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last week.  Brown signed 89 percent of the 977 bills sent to him by the State Legislature by the deadline.  The governor considered some 127 bills related to education or children and signed about 100; some 26 were vetoed, according to an EdSource tally.  Details about this and other notable bills related to education that Brown has signed into law or vetoed — including those with wide-ranging implications for early education, K-12 schools and higher education — can be found below. In addition, EdSource has compiled a complete listing of education-related bills signed and vetoed.


Illinois teachers can get tax credit for buying supplies

Illinois teachers who buy classroom supplies with their own money may now receive a state tax credit of up to $250.  The new credit is in addition to a $250 federal deduction. It’s available for public school principals, aides and teachers who work at least 900 hours in a school year.  State Sen. Tom Cullerton is encouraging teachers to take advantage of the credit, which is available for the first time this year.


Ralph Northam Is Taking on Betsy DeVos—by Breaking With Barack Obama (Virginia)

On Thursday night in Richmond, Virginia, his first day back on the campaign trail since Donald Trump’s inauguration, Barack Obama will give a stump speech for the state’s Democratic nominee for governor, Ralph Northam. The former president will inject himself into a race The Washington Post called “the country’s marquee statewide election this year,” a critical swing-state test for his party and the Trump resistance. Polls are tightening; Democrats are nervous. But with three weeks until the election, Northam, Virginia’s current lieutenant governor, is clinging to a slim lead. His campaign said last week that “Ralph and President Obama will discuss the need for the next governor to create economic opportunity for all Virginians—no matter who you are or where you’re from.”


Schools Mount Fight Against Chronic Absenteeism

The elementary school in Oregon’s Willamina district set out last year to pick apart a complicated problem that would ultimately require an equally complicated solution: Many of its Native American students failed to show up on a regular basis.

Addressing that chronic absenteeism was like untangling a rope, loosening knotted-up, long-established habits, cultural issues, and the persistent barriers of poverty that can keep children out of school, leaders in the district of 835 students said.


Nashville district joins lawsuit seeking more state education funding

The Nashville (Tenn.) school board has voted to join the Shelby County district in a lawsuit seeking more education funding from the state.  The Tennessean reports that he motion to join the litigation passed in a 7-0 vote by the Nashville school board. The action brings together Tennessee’s two largest school districts in the fight for more education funds from the state.  The Shelby County district, which includes Memphis, contends in its lawsuit that the state isn’t adequately funding its schools and as a result that is hurting the system’s most vulnerable students.


There’s a push to eliminate the Michigan education board: Here’s why

A resolution in the Michigan Legislature pushes for the elimination of the State Board of Education, but voters would have the final say over the fate of the elected body.  The proposal was met with mixed reaction this morning during a meeting of the House Education Reform Committee. And the co-presidents of the board say the effort is not only a long shot but misguided.


Szafir: State education plan is flawed (Wisconsin)

State Superintendent Tony Evers’ recent submission of Wisconsin’s plan to the U.S. Department of Education sets the direction of education policy in the Badger State for years to come. Unfortunately, the state plan, a requirement under the new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), fails to take any serious action on low-performing schools and forgoes opportunities to improve K-12 schools in Wisconsin.  It needs to be amended. 


Data reveals a work in progress, education officials say (Massachusetts)

They may not seem encouraging, with roughly only half of test-takers across the state earning a score indicating they are meeting expectations. But local and state education leaders said they are seeing positive signs as they digest the results, released to the public Wednesday, from the first year of the state’s new MCAS test.  They also stressed that this year’s scores, for which schools will not be held accountable, should not be compared to past years’ testing results.



2017 State Policy Review: School and district leadership

School and district leaders play a critical role in improving student outcomes and ensuring quality instruction. Among school-related factors, leadership is found to have one of the greatest impacts on student learning — second only to classroom instruction.1 Additionally, effective leaders are a pivotal influence in recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, and mitigating shortages.2 Research highlighting the importance of leadership continues to re-energize policy discussions around how states can strengthen and support the heads of their schools and districts


Revisiting the Persistent Teacher Diversity Problem

Teacher diversity in K-12 classrooms is a problem for school districts across the country. Although people of color constitute more than one-third of the U.S. labor force, less than 20 percent of teachers identify as people of color. In some cities, the problem is especially acute: In Boston, there is one Hispanic teacher for every 52 Hispanic students and one black teacher for every 22 black students. Meanwhile, the ratio of white teachers to white students is one to fewer than three. The Center for American Progress’ recent nationwide survey of school districts’ human capital practices found that nearly half of school districts believe that teachers of color are “very difficult” to hire.