At the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), our mission has always been “to promote the understanding and making of music by all,” regardless of circumstance.

When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed in 2015, we became one step closer to achieving that goal. For nearly 15 years, due to the policies of No Child Left Behind, students, educators, parents, and music advocates frequently faced narrowed curricula that reduced student engagement in music and arts.

Today, the No Child Left Behind era is long gone. Music is featured as a standalone listing in ESSA’s “well-rounded education” provision, bringing numerous opportunities, including the Title IV-A block grant, which supports access to a sequential and standards-based music education.

Great Potential

Authorized at $1.6 billion, Title IV-A, otherwise known as the Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grant, has great potential to provide robust funding to a variety of school districts in supporting student access to a well-rounded education. Although well-rounded is only one of three allottable uses—others being safe and healthy programs and educational technology—these funds can be used in a multitude of ways to support in-school music programs.

One district may want to utilize their Title IV-A funds to support capital costs, such as buying new instruments or sheet music, while others may want to supplement costs for facility improvements in their performing arts spaces. The possibilities can be endless, but how can you best determine what is most needed for your school and school district’s music programs?

In 2015, NAfME’s Council of Music Program Leaders developed a tool titled the Opportunity-to-Learn (OTL) Standards, which identifies and outlines resources that need to be in place for students to have an opportunity to achieve music literacy. The OTL Standards are aligned with the 2014 National Core Arts Standards and address four areas:

  1. Curriculum and scheduling: The curriculum must reflect a vision for helping students achieve the desired learning goals. The key to this vision is the scheduling of sufficient time so that students can carry out the four artistic processes (creating, performing, responding, and connecting) necessary for deep learning emphasized by the 2014 Music Standards.
  2. Staffing: The standards will not be achieved by students unless the system for delivering instruction is based on certified educators with the requisite qualifications, augmented in a structured and appropriate way by community resources.
  3. Materials and equipment: Music education cannot exist without making music, and making music in most traditions requires instruments, accessories, texts, and increasingly, access to and use of various technologies.
  4. Facilities: Making and learning music requires the dedication of appropriate space for day-to-day instruction. Correct design and maintenance of this space is essential to the success of the program and of the students.

Each area is given indicators to provide distinction between basic and quality needs for music programs. The OTL Standards also offer specific guidance for all grades and all music education content areas, including general music education, music technology, music composition, and ensembles such as band, orchestra, and choir.

An Invaluable Tool

Naturally, we believe the Opportunity-to-Learn Standards can be an invaluable tool for school administrators as you participate in your district’s needs assessment or local application for Title IV-A.

They can act as a simple checklist to determine your music programs’ specific needs. You may even want to pitch the OTL Standards to your school district’s fine arts coordinator or arts/music curriculum specialist, who can collaborate with other music education staff about what is or is not available throughout the district. Ultimately, the OTL Standards can be a great exercise in cultivating a positive relationship with your music educators, providing you with information that allows you to see music education through their lens.

$1.1 Billion

In FY 2018, Congress appropriated $1.1 billion for the Title IV-A block grant—an amount that we were most pleased about, especially after the previous year’s inadequate funding level of $400 million. At this funding level, numerous school districts will have the true flexibility that they deserve to invest in a well-rounded curriculum, including the ability to provide access to music education.

As we continue the 2018–19 school year, we hope you and your district will utilize the Opportunity-​to-Learn Standards to evaluate your school’s music programs and determine their needs. Each and every student deserves a well-rounded education, and Title IV-A may be the key to providing your students the access to a sequential and standards-​based music education.

Ronny Lau is the assistant director of public policy for the National Association for Music Education.