Monday, October 25, 2010

Interview with Jennifer Peck (Partnership for Children and Youth) on ELT and Future Trends in Afterschool



By Sam Piha

Redefining afterschool programs as “expanded learning time” (ELT) has made its way into discussions regarding the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind and the 21st CCLCs. Below is a brief interview with Jennifer Peck, Executive Director of The Partnership for Children and Youth. Jennifer has been very active in the federal policy discussions regarding 21st CCLCs. Jennifer is a member of the California Work Group for the Learning in Afterschool project. A more complete bio follows this interview.


Jennifer Peck
Q: How do we maximize the opportunities and minimize the threats that ELT presents to afterschool program providers?
A: When it became clear that ELT would be a prominent part of the federal policy conversation around 21st CCLC funding, I was concerned, as were many in the after school field.  This thing called “ELT” sounded like more school for more hours and could potentially strip resources from the after school programs for which we have advocated for so long. However, after much examination, thinking, and discussion with colleagues around the country, I have come to view this ELT debate as an opportunity in the following ways:
·    It gives us the opportunity to communicate the fact that after school programs have in fact been extending learning time for students for many years.

·    If done right, new policies around ELT and 21st CCLC could result in deeper partnerships between schools and their community partners. Right now, we still have a lot of after school programs, located at schools that operate quite separately from the school. If schools have the option to use these dollars for a longer day and/or revised school schedule, strong community partnerships should be supported and required. Community agencies have a stake in children’s education and should have a role in the planning and implementation of ELT programs. 

Given the broad interest and political momentum around the need to give students more time, an expansion of our language and ways of doing business are our best shot for growing resources for all types of extended learning opportunities for students.

The absolute bottom line is, what does the “more time” look like?  The vast majority of people involved in this debate recognize that additional time can’t simply be a longer day, with “more of the same”. When 21st CCLC is reauthorized through the ESEA process, it’s essential that the law explicitly reinforces what research and experience tell us about high quality programs such as:
·    Requiring that schools partner with community organizations, and that partnerships don’t only exist on paper – partners are engaged in planning, implementation, quality improvement and evaluation;

·    Ensuring that we measure success in meaningful ways, beyond grades and test scores, to assess student engagement and the acquisition of skills we know students will need later in school and in the workplace;

·    Allowing communities to decide which model of “extended learning time” works best for their students, whether it’s after school programs, summer learning programs, a redesigned day, or a combination of the above.

I’m proud to say that our own Congressman George Miller, Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee and a key advisor to the Administration on education issues, has a strong understanding of what’s at stake with an expansion of the 21st CCLC program and of the policies we need in place to both protect high quality after school programming as well as inspire extended day innovations.  He will continue to be a key and influential champion of our efforts regardless of which political party takes control of Congress in a few weeks.


Q: How might the Learning in Afterschool principles be useful in framing the ELT conversation?
A: The Learning in Afterschool effort is perfectly aligned and perfectly timed with this federal policy conversation.  The LIA principles and language support the very critical task of helping decision makers at all levels understand that after school programs are a place of learning, are worthy of continued and strengthened investments, and can be the foundation for new and innovative models of teaching and learning. 

Q: There is always a lot going on in the growing and changing afterschool movement. What is most on your mind right now outside of ELT?
A: I am concerned that we find ways for children in our lowest-income communities to have access to high quality enrichment and learning opportunities all year long, not just during the 180 days of the school year.  A vast majority of our state and federal after school dollars in California are currently allocated to school-year only programs, but students don’t stop needing these programs when school closes in June. To the contrary, decades of research tell us that students who don’t have access to learning opportunities in the summer are losing significant academic ground from one year to the next, and this phenomenon is cumulative and disproportionately affects low-income children.
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Jennifer Peck was a founding staff member of the Partnership in 2001 and became its executive director in 2003.  Through her leadership, the Partnership has developed and implemented initiatives to finance and build after-school and summer-learning programs, and increase access to school meals and nutrition education programs in the Bay Area’s lowest-income communities. Jennifer leads a coalition of California organizations advocating for new federal policies to improve the effectiveness of after-school and summer-learning programs. To learn more about the Partnership and sign up for their e-newsletter, visit their website

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Questions About the Learning in Afterschool Project

By Sam Piha

There have been a number of questions that others have asked related to the LIA project. Below we attempt to respond to some of them.

Q: Much has been written for and about afterschool programs already. Why did you launch the Learning in Afterschool project and how is it the same or different as what has come before it?

A: Yes, there has been a lot discussed and written about afterschool - on outcomes and measurement, how programs should align to the school day, and how to solve educational problems that don’t seem to be easily solved. Somehow, we managed to have these conversations without talking about how children learn. As someone who taught school for ten years and later specialized in child and youth development, I always found this fact a bit strange.

What this project tries to do is focus not on what young people should learn, rather focus on the how- program approaches that promote learning. You will notice that the exemplar afterschool programs - the ones that are the darlings of the afterschool movement - are all exceptional in how they promote young people’s excitement in learning. The same is true of those exceptional educators who are named as teachers of the year in local, state, and national ceremonies. What we hear most about these acclaimed classroom teachers are their abilities to motivate and excite young people in learning. But somehow we bypass the principles that they apply in practice. This project aims to focus our attention and practice on a few learning principles.
  
Q: Why this, why now?

A: The last decade has been largely focused on securing the resources to take afterschool to scale. Through our work in California and across the country, we detected a kind of malaise among afterschool leaders and workers – a sense that we somehow lost the deeper purpose that undergirded the afterschool movement. In talking with afterschool leaders and workers, we learned that there was a profound readiness to return to the deeper questions of how we want to use the afterschool hours. We noticed an increase in excitement when we focused our discussions on children’s motivation and involvement in their own learning. It seemed like the right time to look ahead at the upcoming decade and consider how we wanted to define and defend afterschool in the future. 

Q: Why did the LIA project select only 5 learning principles? 

A: There are a number of important principles that we did not include and it was a painful process paring them down. What we’ve learned from our past work is that any lists of ideas or principles that you want people to remember need to fit on one hand, which means no more than five. So we chose those five principles that are vital to learning, have not been discussed enough, and are well suited to the afterschool environment. 

We know that the quality of the relationships between adults and youth are critical to learning. We also know that creating a safe environment physically and emotionally is also key. However, we felt that these issues were already well addressed in the literature. 

Q: There are some who would contend that the Learning in Afterschool project raises the bar and only demands more from a field that is already under resourced and overstretched. How do you respond to this?

LIA Afterschool Ambassadors
Retreat on October 1-3, 2010
A: We believe that by being more explicit about learning, we can effectively focus our capacity building to improve program performance in these areas. The trick is only focusing on a small number of principles so as to not overwhelm program leaders and workers. We can accomplish this by focusing our technical assistance and quality conversations using these principles. Designing activities and methods that better promote meaningful learning is clearly more work for the adults. However, the adults find this work more gratifying, and we’re not here to serve the adults anyway.

Q: What about the importance of youth voice and involvement? How are you addressing this within the workings of the Learning in Afterschool project? 
A: You will see that there is a critical component that we call “The Afterschool Ambassadors.” This is a youth-led effort to capture the perspectives of youth and what they value about learning in afterschool. Following a 3-day leadership retreat with over 25 youth from across the state (pictured to the right), they will work to gather and communicate the views of their peers to influence the California afterschool landscape. We have asked them to build their own website and utilize internet and social networking tools, such as YouTube and Facebook. You can become a fan of the LIA Afterschool Ambassadors on Facebook.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Waiting for Superman

By Sam Piha

"Waiting for Superman," the documentary on the American education system, is now at local theaters. The good news is that this documentary will stimulate a conversation and dialogue about how to improve education in America. We urge everyone interested in education to see the film and enter into the discussion. The bad news is it may prove to further the polarization between teachers and school critics. The fact is that the problems in our current education system are not the fault of any single entity, and fixing it will require the participation of the entire community. 

The film clearly has a number of flaws, which is to be expected, given the complexity of the problem. The animation that portrays good teachers as successfully pouring knowledge into the brains of students misrepresents what we know about motivation and learning. Learning is not about being a receptacle for information, but rather is about children actively engaging in their own learning, which we promote in the Learning in Afterschool project. 

Secondly, it puts too much spotlight on teachers unions. Teachers unions are only part of the problem, but one has to acknowledge that they set themselves up for criticism by being the first to resist any effort to reform our schools. Thirdly, it suggests that charter schools are the only answer. Geoffrey Canada would be the first to acknowledge that charter schools are not the sole solution, as only one in five charter schools outperform public schools.

Hopefully the dialogue that will be stimulated by this film will be productive, because it's time that we push the adult interests aside and focus our attention on improving the futures of our children. Tell us what you think.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Interview with Pedro Noguera


By Sam Piha

Pedro Noguera
Below is a brief interview with Pedro Noguera, Professor of Education at New York University and member of the National Advisory Group for the Learning in Afterschool project. A more complete bio follows this interview.

Q: You had a hand in creating the Broader and Bolder Approach to Education project. Can you tell us a bit about that project?

A: A group of us - researchers, educators, policymakers, etc. were concerned about the narrow approach to education reform that characterized No Child Left Behind.  We felt that with a new administration coming in we had an opportunity to appeal for a broader approach, one that focused on early childhood education, healthcare, and extended learning opportunities.  Essentially, we wanted to stress the idea that more of what had not worked - high stakes testing, blame and pressure on schools, would not get us different results. 

Q: How do the Learning in Afterschool principles relate to the Broader and Bolder Approach to Education? 

A: The learning principles are very complimentary to the ideas contained and supported by BBA.  We want to see a more holistic approach taken to educating children, one that responds to the developmental needs of the student and focuses on fostering intellectual curiosity and a love of learning.  The principles contained in Learning in Afterschool promote such an approach, and if applied with fidelity, could lead to real improvements in educational outcomes for kids. 

Q: You recently gave a keynote address at a conference in Los Angeles focused on STEM and afterschool hours where you spoke about the Learning in Afterschool principles. Can you say why you used the LIA principles? 

A: I used the LIA principles because I felt they captured many of the core elements that a successful afterschool program should have.  Actually, those principles should be reflected in classrooms during the regular school day as well.  We spend so much time focused on "achievement" and so little time focused on how to motivate students to learn.  The principles advocated by Learning in Afterschool strike the right balance and make sense. 

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Dr. Noguera is an urban sociologist whose scholarship and research focuses on the ways in which schools are influenced by social and economic conditions in the urban environment. He is also the Executive Director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education and the co-Director of the Institute for the Study of Globalization and Education in Metropolitan Settings (IGEMS). Dr. Noguera was a classroom teacher in public schools in Providence, RI and Oakland, CA.  He has held tenured faculty appoints at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (2000-2003), and at the University of California, Berkeley (1990-2000). His work has appeared in multiple major research journals. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Welcome to the Learning in Afterschool Blog!

Today marks the beginning of the effort to stimulate a deeper conversation among those who support learning in the afterschool hours. We are interested in how practitioners and field leaders are thinking about learning, the kinds of policies that impede or promote learning, and strategies that afterschool programs are using to increase the learning of their participants. 

We will use this blog space to interview thought leaders in the field of afterschool, alert readers to important developments, and provide commentary and an exchange between readers. We also urge readers to join the Learning in Afterschool Facebook fan page.