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Seize NCLB's Opportunities for Arts' Funding

Soapbox is an occasional Education World feature that gives educators a chance to express their views.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, the arts, including music, are considered a core academic subject and can qualify for federal funds. Dr. Willie L. Hill Jr., president of the National Association for Music Education, urges educators to seize all opportunities.

By Dr.Willie L. Hill Jr.

We are all professionals oriented toward giving students the best possible opportunities to learn music. We know that we need resources to accomplish that task. Instruments, classroom and rehearsal room space, music, and recordings are only the tip of the iceberg. Time for teaching is equally essential. And we need professional development to keep our faculties honed, and paychecks to keep our families fed.

What many of us don't realize, however, is how these resources are allocated among music programs in American schools. Incomplete and inaccurate information about funding are among the hallmarks of our current round of education reform. Ask any two decision makers about the rules governing resources for music education, and you'll get at least three answers. It's clear that the practical implications of the No Child Left Behind Act have been only slowly brought to light.

Here, for the record, are a few key provisions of the act that every music teacher should understand:

  • "The arts" are a "core academic subject" according to NCLB. While the law does not specifically define the arts, the implication of the law is clearly to include those arts that a state has historically treated as part of the curriculum -- especially those for which the state has adopted standards.
  • States are responsible for student achievement in all subjects for which the state has developed "challenging academic content and achievement standards." Almost all states have such standards for music.
  • The majority of resources provided by the federal government under Title I and Title II of the NCLB may be spent on music. They are not limited to reading, mathematics, or any other "core academic subjects."

That's the theory. In practice, things rarely are so clear-cut. While music programs are clearly eligible for federal funding (and for state and local funding), we still must advocate for the proper allocation of resources so we can serve children and help them reach the standards we developed in 1994. We can be armed for our advocacy battles with the dual premises that we are supported in federal law and that we support students' standards-based achievement.

That last point is showing up more strongly than ever. For example, the National Endowment for the Arts now requires that all projects in its "Learning in the Arts for Children and Youth" category be "consistent with national, state, or local arts education standards." The NEA has consulted with MENC on this, and we hope that this is evidence of a new seriousness the federal government may be adopting toward education in the arts. And we hope this focus on standards-based achievement will become the norm in state and local funding.

We will have to see how that turns out. In the meantime, the keys to continued access to resources for school music programs are the same that they have always been: helping students achieve knowledge and skill in standards-based music programs.

Dr. Willie L. Hill Jr. is president of the National Association for Music Education, also known as the Music Educators National Conference (MENC). The mission of MENC is to "advance music education by encouraging the study and making of music by all."

This column is condensed from "Connections," Music Educators Journal, March 2004. Copyright (c) 2004 by MENC: The National Association for Music Education. The article is used with permission, and is not for further use or transmission without written permission.