Monday, October 24, 2016

U.S. Department of Education Releases Guidance Encouraging Well-Rounded Education

The U.S. Department of Education today released non-regulatory guidance to help states, districts and schools provide students with a more well-rounded education under Title IV, Part A, Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (SSAE). The new grant program in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) focuses on safe and healthy students, and how technology can be integrated into schools to improve teaching and learning in addition to emphasizing access to a well-rounded education that includes a wide variety of disciplines – such as music, the arts, social studies, environmental education, computer science and civics.

The guidance – which serves as a resource to help support effective implementation of the new grant program – provides examples of allowable uses of funds, discusses the role of state education agencies, details fiscal responsibilities, and identifies local application requirements.
Under the new program, states, districts and schools have the flexibility to tailor investments based on the needs of their unique student populations.

While strong literacy and math skills are essential for success in college, career and life, they are not sufficient.

One recent survey found, though, that elementary school students spend just 21 minutes a day on social studies, and just a little bit more on science. With the passage of ESSA, states, districts and schools can refocus on the characteristics of a comprehensive, well-rounded education—and do so in ways that and ensure access and equity for all students.

Too often, students from low-income families and students of color do not have access to arts, science, social studies or advanced coursework. Likewise, gender gaps persist in many disciplines. Science achievement gaps can show up as early as kindergarten. Further, there is evidence that students get better at math when they take classes that make the connection between STEM and the arts. Students can also grow in self-confidence, in linguistic skills, and in creativity when they have certain courses in the arts.

Through this guidance, the Department provides resources, tools and examples of innovative strategies to support the effective implementation of the SSAE grant program. Areas of focus include:
  • Strategies to leverage federal, state, and local funds as well as develop partnerships to maximize the impact of the programs and services;
  • Steps to guide districts in examining their needs and investing in areas that will have the greatest impact on their communities;
  • Tactics to improve school conditions for student learning so students are healthy and feel safe and supported;
  • Effective practices to carefully design and thoughtfully apply technology to accelerate, amplify, and support student learning;
  • Approaches to engage students in educational opportunities across multiple subjects and domains.
Importantly, the guidance highlights that SSAE funds may not be sufficient to independently fund many of these innovative activities. This guidance discusses leveraging other state and local resources in combination with the SSAE grant funds to achieve the goals of SSAE programs and activities.

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