Music Education Policy Roundup – September 4, 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.


  • This past week, NAfME held its latest Quarterly Advocacy Webinar titled, “Back to Congress (School)!”  For those who registered, but were unable to attend the live showing, you can access an archived version of the webinar and its associated materials here.  
  • #MoreTitleIV—Thank you to those who participated in our August 31 Thunderclap in support of Title IV-A!  Together, we reached nearly 1 million people on social media!  Just missed out? No problem!  You can tweet @ your Senators and Representatives the following:  @[Senator/Representative] mental health services, access to STEM, arts, music, PE & edtech programs at risk w/o #MoreTitleIV funding #ESSA



Trump and DeVos fuel a for-profit college comeback

For-profit colleges are winning their battle to dismantle Obama-era restrictions as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rolls back regulations, grants reprieves to schools at risk of losing their federal funding and stocks her agency with industry insiders.


Who was — and wasn’t — invited to Betsy DeVos’s education roundtable

An office manager was invited. So were politicians, ministers and school administrators. But it’s more interesting who wasn’t invited to the education roundtable that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos attended in Tallahassee on Wednesday with the Baptist minister who convened the event.

The event was convened by the Rev. R.B. Holmes, leader of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in the Florida capital and a prominent advocate of school choice in the state. DeVos is a longtime proponent of school choice too, saying once that traditional public education in the United States was a “dead end.”

The Education Department said that DeVos met with “a broad spectrum of education leaders in Florida”  in two 45-minutes sessions, the first titled “Saving, Sustaining and Strengthening Public Education and Schools of Choice” and the second titled “Saving, Sustaining and Strengthening HBCUs and Higher Education.”


GOP lawmaker aims to force vote to protect Dreamers

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) said Thursday he’ll attempt to force a vote on a bill that would extend protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors.  When he returns to Washington next week, Coffman said he’ll file what’s known as a “discharge petition” to force action on his proposal, known as the BRIDGE Act. If he can persuade a majority of the House — 218 members — to join him, the House will be required to take up the measure later in September.


Report: School closures leave fewer than half of students at better schools

Less than half of students leaving a school closed because of poor performance landed in a better-performing school, a new report from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University.  That was true for both charter school and traditional public school students, the report found, although displaced charter school students were more likely to end up in a better school than students at traditional public schools.  The study’s findings inject a strong cautionary note into the debate about whether and how to close consistently low-performing schools — an option that has gained traction in the last decade.


LGBT groups press Trump administration for information on transgender decision

Groups advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are pressing the Trump administration for more information on its decision to rescind a Barack Obama directive aimed at protecting the rights of transgender students.  Lambda Legal, an LGBT civil rights group, sued the Trump administration Tuesday night over its failure to produce documents related to that decision.  “The Departments of Education and Justice pulled the rug out from under transgender students, leaving them even more vulnerable to harassment and abuse,” said Susan Sommer, associate legal director and director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, in a statement. “We need to know why.”  The Trump administration scrapped the Obama directive in February. The Obama administration interpreted Title IX — the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination — to also bar gender identity discrimination. Schools, districts, colleges and universities were warned they could lose federal funding if they didn’t comply with the guidance, which was legally non-binding.


Pressure mounts on White House to delay black colleges’ event

The Trump administration is facing growing pressure to postpone an annual conference for historically black colleges and universities — but the White House says it has no plans to do so.  HBCU leaders and members of the Congressional Black Caucus have called on the White House and Education Department to delay next month’s conference, citing President Donald Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va., and a lack of progress on his promises to HBCUs.  The United Negro College Fund, also known as UNCF, on Wednesday became the latest organization to call on the administration to delay the conference.  Michael L. Lomax, the group’s president and CEO, said in a letter that the Trump administration should instead focus on appointing a leader for the White House Initiative on HBCUs and “developing a meaningful plan of action with concrete commitments to invest in and advance HBCUs.”


President’s arts and humanities committee resigns over Trump’s Charlottesville response

Another advisory group is walking away from President Donald Trump after his equivocation on neo-Nazis and white supremacists, with the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigning en masse Friday morning.  “We cannot sit idly by, the way that your West Wing advisors have, without speaking out against your words and actions,” members write in a joint letter to Trump obtained by POLITICO that ends by calling on the president to resign if he does not see a problem with what’s happened this week.


Education Department announces college prep grants

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded a second round of funding for programs that help low-income students who aspire to attend college.  The Upward Bound awards are going to programs with applications that were initially rejected because of formatting errors such as not being double-spaced or using the wrong font.  Members of Congress on Wednesday confirmed five-year grants to several universities, including Wittenberg in Ohio, the University of Maine at Presque Isle, Columbia University in New York, and the University of Montana, along with Illinois Central College and Kankakee Community College in Illinois.  The grants included more than $623,000 for Maine at Presque Isle; over $356,000 for the University of Montana and nearly $517,000 for Wittenberg.


On ESSA, many principals have little idea what the law actually means

One of the recurring themes from principals around ESSA implementation has been, “Well, I’m just going to wait for my superintendent to tell me what to do.”  Actually, according to experts from the National Association of Elementary School Principals who shared at the 2017 National Principals Conference in Philadelphia and spoke on background for this article, the law was designed to be much more bottom-up than previous laws, and you should reach out to your superintendent with plans you’d like to see implemented in your school to help improve outcomes for all learners therein.



School funding, tax credit scholarship bill heads to Rauner

A weekslong standoff over funding for Illinois public schools is poised to end, as a compromise bill cleared by the state’s Legislature heads to the desk of Gov. Bruce Rauner.  The state Senate approved the bill 38-13 Tuesday afternoon, after the state House cleared it late Monday.  The bill is the product of a deal struck by four Democratic and Republican legislative leaders last week, and sanctioned by Rauner, who has pledged to sign it. Once enacted, the bill would establish a new, more equitable school funding formula for the state and resume state aid payments to Illinois districts now in the lurch.


DeVos mum on federal waivers for Florida education system

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was vague about how receptive her administration is to a potential request by Florida education officials for a federal waiver from requirements under a new federal law.  “I’m very much looking forward to receiving Florida’s [Every Student Succeeds Act] plan, along with the ESSA plans from most of the other states, or many of the other states,” DeVos said at a brief press conference following a tour of Holy Comforter Episcopal School in Tallahassee. “And we are focused on ensuring that states simply comply with the laws, and we will take each state’s plan and consider it as they are submitted to us. And I’m looking forward to Florida’s innovations in their plans.”


Texas schools ponder recovery after Hurricane Harvey

Southeast Texas school officials are just beginning to assess the damage from Hurricane Harvey after the storm closed schools or caused delays earlier this week for hundreds of thousands of students in about 200 public school districts and more than 40 charter schools.  Many schools won’t open until at least Sept. 5, according to the latest information from the Texas Education Agency. Some are delaying the start of school indefinitely until officials can accurately assess the damage. About 160 public and charter schools were closed as of Tuesday.


West Virginia enlists teachers in opioid fight

West Virginia is preparing to place schoolteachers on the front lines in the fight against the opioid epidemic.  The Mountain State, grappling with the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country, will soon give elementary, middle and high school teachers access to naloxone, the lifesaving opioid overdose reversal drug, on school grounds.  The move is part of a larger effort by states and cities to enlist civil servants as potential first responders in the nationwide battle against the opioid epidemic. Firefighters, police officers, librarians and school nurses in many states are already equipped with overdose reversal drugs.


Arizona school choice advocates sue to derail referendum on new law

School choice supporters have filed a lawsuit challenging signatures on a petition seeking a 2018 voter referendum to stop a recently passed Arizona law that would channel more public funds to private schools.  The plaintiffs, backed by the libertarian Goldwater Institute, want Arizona to move forward with the law, passed in April, that would expand eligibility for families who want to participate in the state’s education savings account program. Under the law, about 30,000 students would be eligible for the public funds, which can be used for private school tuition or other education expenditures such as curriculum materials.


New York: Continued test refusal rates could hurt New York schools under ESSA

New York’s education leaders and advocates highlighted a slight decline in the test refusal movement on Tuesday but acknowledged that with nearly one-fifth of eligible students opting out of standardized math and English language arts tests, the problem isn’t going away.  That could pose difficulties next year as the state looks to implement its new accountability system under the Every Student Succeeds Act — a federal law that requires 95 percent participation on state exams.


California lawmakers push to ban school suspensions for nonviolent behavior

California — long a bastion of progressive policies — could soon become the first state to ban suspensions of all public school students for non-violent behavior.  Some of state’s largest school districts, including Los Angeles and Oakland, did away with these suspensions years ago, and state law already bans them in elementary schools. Now, a bill that breezed through the state Senate in the spring would push further, expanding a ban on suspensions for non-violent behavior and disruption to students in middle schools and high schools.  The proposal is among the most aggressive attempts by state lawmakers nationwide to curb suspensions and reform the way schools deal with disciplinary issues.


Sacrificing educators’ consciences to raise high school graduation rates

During six years as a math teacher in Littleton, Colo., Peter Jonnard created a huge bank of questions only he knew the answers to so that students could no longer cheat on the online credit recovery tests they needed to graduate from high school.  Only 40 percent of his students passed his cheat-proof exams, he said. The passing rate for other students, who could game the system to get the answers, was about 80 percent, he said.  Ayde Rosas Davis, a high school math teacher in Del Rio, Tex., had it even worse. When she saw other teachers routinely giving students the answers to credit recovery test questions, she complained to her supervisor, her superintendent, her school board and the Texas Education Agency (TEA).  Two years later, there has been no progress, Davis said. In April, the TEA denied her complaint. The school district’s attorney, Robert A. Schulman, told me it “strongly promotes academic integrity and does not condone cheating in any form or context.”


Education Department Approves Vermont Plan Under New Law

The U.S Department of Education has approved Vermont‘s plan required for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

The new education law replaced No Child Left Behind, and states were asked to submit state-level plans for charting student success to the federal government. Vermont Public Radio reports ( ) that both Vermont and Maine‘s proposals were approved by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos late Thursday.  The final approval comes after Vermont was asked for more information on measuring student progress earlier this month.  The new Vermont plan will use testing to measure school quality like it did under the previous law. The state also will look at staffing, personal education plans, school climate, and how schools are spending tax dollars.


Nevada official says CCSD can’t blame budget deficit on state

Nevada’s top education official took issue Thursday with Clark County school officials’ assertion that part of the district’s budget deficit was caused by declines in state funding, pinning the blame on poor planning on the district’s part.  “To blame the state is erroneous here,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Steve Canavero said an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I’m just pointing out that the math doesn’t add up and the focal point of their narrative is disingenuous at best.”  Clark County School District Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky responded that the district is not blaming the state for its budget predicament.  “We have to work together to not cast stones,” he said. “I understand that we had expenditures and estimations that were off from what the state had. We’re going back and looking at legislative bills to see where the disconnect is because it’s important to get to the bottom. That’s not the biggest issue, though. Blame is not where we’re at.”


More Colorado charter schools are using weighted lotteries. Here’s why

When a highly sought-after charter school in the western Colorado town of Carbondale held its annual enrollment lottery last spring, 52 students were vying for just 14 kindergarten slots.  Seven youngsters, all siblings of students already enrolled at Carbondale Community School, got first dibs. Next up was a group that had never before gotten priority in the school’s 20-year history — kids from homes where English isn’t the primary language.  It was part of an effort by school leaders to help ensure the student body better mirrors the community, where nearly half of students come from Spanish-speaking homes. It also highlights a practice that’s gaining traction among charter schools seeking more diversity: the use of lottery systems that give extra weight to students from underrepresented groups.


Pennsylvania cutting student PSSA test questions, teacher prep time for exams

Standing in a middle school library, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday that the state is cutting the classroom prep time and number of test questions for statewide standardized tests.

The changes, which begin this spring, should reduce the eight hours of testing time about 20 percent in PSSA math and English exams in grades 3 through 8. Depending on the school, that would give teachers at least an extra day and a half for regular classroom instruction.



State Education Governance Structures: 2017 update

Governance requires policymakers to engage in the intricate work of coordinating across various state and local agencies to provide public goods, services and support to diverse populations. This report is designed to help policymakers conceptualize the governance structures charged with creating, implementing and administering state education policies.


The 2017 Brown Center Report on American Education

This Brown Center Report (BCR) on American Education is the sixth and final edition in the third volume and the 16th issue overall. The series began in 2000. As in the past, the report comprises three studies. Also in keeping with tradition, the first section features recent results from state, national, or international assessments; the second section investigates a thematic topic in education, either by collecting new data or by analyzing existing empirical evidence in a novel way; and the third section looks at one or more education policies.


4 charts on how people around the world see education

Publics around the world disagree about which is more important to emphasize in school: creative thinking or basic academic skills and discipline. Here are four key findings about educational preferences from a 2016 Pew Research Center survey of 19 countries.