Wednesday, August 29, 2012

THE COMMON CORE STANDARDS: What Do They Mean For Out-of-School Time? (Part 1)

By Sam Piha

The Common Core Standards has been embraced by educators and government leaders across the country. These common educational standards include standards that cover "habits of mind", which are very compatible with the Learning in Afterschool & Summer principles. Elizabeth Devaney recently worked with Nicole Yohalem and the Forum for Youth Investment in developing a policy brief entitled The Common Core Standards: What Do They Mean For Out-of-School Time? Below we interview Elizabeth Devaney on the Common Core Standards and their relevance to the afterschool/OST field.

Q: For our readers who are not familiar, can you briefly describe what the Common Core standards are? How are they different from previous academic standards?

Elizabeth Devaney
A: The Common Core is the result of a two-year process, facilitated by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), to develop a set of common standards for math and English Language Arts (ELA). The Common Core represents what students in grades K-12 should master in order to be college and career ready, and the hope is that the standards will increase the rigor and coherence of curriculum and assessment as well as increase alignment across states. Content standards are broken out by grade, highlighting specific competencies students in each grade level must achieve in the two main subject areas.

The Common Core focuses on fewer standards at a deeper level than do many of the models used in the past. The standards also emphasize higher order thinking skills; that is, they focus more on demonstrating understanding of content and analyzing written materials rather than on memorizing specific content. The math standards put greater emphasis on understanding how to get to the right answer than simply answering a question correctly, and the ELA standards shift toward increasingly complex informational text.

Q: Why are the Common Core standards important to out-of-school (OST) programs?

A: The Common Core is important to OST programs just as state content standards have always been important – because they represent what students should know and what schools are striving to teach.  If OST programs hope to align with schools and make the case for their contribution to student achievement, then they have to understand what it is schools are held accountable for. The Common Core simply represents a new and more focused approach to standards and place an emphasis on some of the higher order thinking skills OST programs have always championed.

Q: In your briefing paper, you describe the "Habits of Mind" standards. What are these and how are they relevant to OST programs?

A: The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) describes habits of mind as “knowledge, skills, and dispositions that operate in tandem with the academic content in the standards … and offer a portrait of students who, upon graduation, are prepared for college, career, and citizenship.” In each of the two standards documents, math and ELA, there is an introductory section, separate from the content standards, which outlines these skills and dispositions that CCSSO references.  In the Common Core math standards, habits of mind are reflected in the “standards of mathematical practice” – 8 specific competencies students need in order to be successful at math, ranging from perseverance to good use of tools. In the ELA area, they are reflected in an introductory discussion of “the capacities of a literate individual” and range from building independence to understanding other cultures and perspectives.

Habits of mind encompass a range of skills that are critical both to academics but also to success in work and life. They include skills that many youth-serving organizations have long focused on.  It is important to note, however, that the developers of the standards see these habits of mind as relevant for how they contribute to a students’ ability to perform in math and ELA.  Although they are certainly transferable skills, they are only included in the Common Core for how they connect to a specific subject area.

Q:How is the OST field presently engaging with the Common Core standards?

A: OST organizations have already begun responding to the Common Core in a variety of ways. Several of the Mott funded state afterschool networks have begun to address the Common Core through professional development for OST staff.  For example Utah and New Jersey have hosted training and institutes designed to inform program providers about the standards and help them think about how to align curriculum and programming to the content standards.  Georgia and Washington have worked to embed references to the Common Core in newly developed quality standards for OST providers – in effect framing understanding of the Common Core as essential for a high quality program.  Several city-wide intermediaries – TASC, PASA and the Partnership for Children and Youth – are experimenting with implementing policy initiatives, offering professional development, and reframing curriculum to connect with the Common Core.  Although still early, these are promising strategies that will inform how the field more directly connects with the Common Core. 

Q: OST programs are being asked to offer programs that promote STEM, reduced childhood obesity, in addition to promoting academic achievement and broader youth development. Do the Common Core standards represent a piling on or do they represent an opportunity?

A: OST programs are being asked to do a lot and must, by necessity, learn to prioritize and not take on too much.  But I do think the Common Core represents an opportunity rather than a burden.  As I mentioned earlier, the Common Core is not all that different from the state content standards that have existed and been a focus of schools for years.  Any OST program that has been interested in connecting to schools or has a mission to contribute to the academic success of young people has had to think about the state content standards and so the Common Core do not represent something all that new and different.  Rather, they represent a new framing – a more intentional and widespread definition of what students need to know.  And because the Common Core is new and a lot of focus will be placed on them in the coming years, it represents an opportunity for OST programs to become better informed than ever.  But I would also caution that because they are new and schools are going to be consumed by adopting and training their teachers to implement them that we as an OST community need to be careful not to jump in too fast.

Elizabeth is currently an independent consultant working with, among others, the Forum for Youth Investment and the Providence After School Alliance. Prior to starting her consulting practice Elizabeth worked in a variety of educational organizations dedicated to improving the lives and chances of success for young people.  She served as the Deputy Director and Quality Improvement Director of the Providence After School Alliance in Providence, RI.  There she led the development of a statewide quality improvement system for after school and youth development professionals and oversaw the organization’s evaluation and monitoring activities.  She also served as a Project Director at the Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) in Chicago, IL where her work focused on helping schools to implement comprehensive, school-wide social and emotional learning initiatives.  Elizabeth has authored two technical assistance guides for educators and systems builders as well as several published articles and has presented at numerous conferences.  She was the recipient of a Distinguished Fellows award from the W.T. Grant Foundation in 2009 and received her masters degree in nonprofit management from the Heller School of Social Policy at Brandeis University. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Making the Case for "Deeper Learning"

(For an earlier piece on "Deeper Learning" dated 10/5/10 in Education Week, click here.) 

By Guest Blogger Jen Rinehart, Vice President, Research & Policy, The Afterschool Alliance

Jen Rinehart
Last week the National Research Council released a report highlighting the importance of “deeper learning.”  The report, Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Centurywas funded by a number of foundations, including the William and Flora Hewlett, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur and Nellie Mae Education foundations. 

The report validates an educational approach called “deeper learning,” which occurs as students acquire the ability to take the knowledge and skills they learn in one situation and apply it to a new situation.  This process of transferring knowledge from one situation to another develops students’ “21st century competencies,” or transferable knowledge and skills.  The report highlights three domains of knowledge and skills—cognitive, intrapersonal and interpersonal—and discusses their influence on positive outcomes in the areas of education, work and health. 

The three domains of knowledge and skills are:
  • The cognitive domain, which includes critical thinking, problem solving, reasoning and innovation.
  • The intrapersonal domain, which includes skills such as metacognition (the ability to reflect on one’s own learning and make adjustments accordingly), flexibility, self-direction and conscientiousness.
  • The interpersonal domain, which includes such skills as communication and collaboration.
It was exciting to see that the report also affirms that afterschool programs are environments conducive to deeper learning.  Many leaders in the afterschool community have long argued that afterschool settings, free from the constraints of the No Child Left Behind law, are ideal for this kind of deeper learning. 

Finally, the report urges states and the federal government to establish policies and programs in support of deeper learning and encourages policy makers to focus their attention on the key areas of assessment, accountability, curriculum and materials, and teacher education. According to the report—and what the education community has observed over the years—assessments will be key given that so much of current education policy and practice is driven by assessment. 

Afterschool has much to offer in providing opportunities for deeper learning—hopefully policy makers will recognize the importance of deeper learning and the integral role afterschool plays in implementing this approach.

Jen Rinehart joined the Afterschool Alliance in September 2002 and established the Afterschool Alliance's WashingtonD.C. office.  Jen takes a primary role in the Afterschool Alliance's coalition building, policy and research efforts, and serves as a spokesperson for the organization.  Recent projects include America After 3 PM: A Household Survey on Afterschool in America and Kids Deserve Better, a campaign to get voters and candidates thinking and talking about children's issues, particularly afterschool. Jen also served as Interim Executive Director of the Afterschool Alliance from December 2004 through June 2005.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Save the Date for How Kids Learn II: A One-Day Conference in the Bay Area on January 9, 2013

By Sam Piha

Temescal Associates and the Learning in Afterschool & Summer Project is proud to join with others in sponsoring How Kids Learn II on January 9, 2013 in San Francisco. The purpose of this TED-like, one-day conference is to inform and energize youth program leaders, educators and afterschool stakeholders regarding our current knowledge on how kids learn and to share innovative approaches to promote learning outside of the classroom. In addition to hearing from cutting edge thinkers on how kids learn, participants will have the opportunity to meet innovative practitioners and California colleagues. To date, confirmed speakers include Pedro Noguera, Jane Quinn, Robert Granger, Renate Caine, Nicole Yohalem, and other national leaders. We will also hear from innovative leaders from exemplar programs that operate in California. They include those from Techbridge, Pogo Park, Mindful Impact, and The Los Angeles Service Academy (LASA).
Much is discussed and written on what children need to learn.  Less attention is paid to how they learn.  What have we learned in recent brain research that contributes to this question? How can we apply this knowledge to improve our work with young people to increase their motivation and interest in learning? What are effective learning approaches that are currently being used successfully by practitioners, especially those working in out-of-school programs and in informal learning settings, and what makes them successful?
For more details and how to register, visit the conference website: Registration will begin on August 20, 2012. Last year was a sold out event so early registration is suggested.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Could NCLB Waivers Mean Waving Good-Bye to Federally Funded Afterschool?

By Guest Blogger Cathie Mostovoy of Mostovoy Strategies

Cathie Mostovoy
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education announced that Washington and Wisconsin were the latest states to receive No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers, giving them “flexibility from key provisions of No Child Left Behind in exchange for state-developed plans to prepare all students for college and career, focus aid on the neediest students, and support effective teaching and leadership.” This came on the heels of the previous week’s news that waiver applications from five other states had been approved. With these recent seven additions, a total of 26 states have now been granted NCLB waivers.

In the ten years since it was enacted, NCLB has become the education policy that we love to hate so granting waivers to allow more control at the local level should be a welcome shift, right?  Presumably yes, but the devil is in the details, which brings us to the optional 11th waiver, a waiver that allows 21st Century Learning Centers (21stCCLC) funds – money that was originally designated for out-of-school programs -- to be used to lengthen the school day, week, or year. Seventeen states applied for and received this waiver, and that has left supporters of afterschool and summer programs understandably scratching their heads about what this means for the future. Here are a few of the questions that come to mind:

Will the lure of 21stCCLC dollars shift money away from afterschool and reduce access despite the unmet demand for these programs? 

Earmarking 21stCCLC funds for out-of-school enrichment has encouraged schools and community-based organizations to form cooperative, constructive relationships to further their mutual interests. The 11th waiver could turn allies into competitors if they feel they are vying for the same resources. Should that come to pass afterschool programs could lose a lot of funding and a lot of ground.

Is it cost effective to shift 21stCCLC funds away from afterschool programs? 

There are several factors to consider here. One is the potentially high cost of adding time to school schedules, which among other things, necessitates paying credentialed teachers. Another is that 21stCCLC grants provide leverage for afterschool providers to raise additional funds, thereby significantly increasing the value of each grant dollar that goes into these programs. Most schools lack the capacity to do significant fundraising, meaning that a dollar spent to add to a school schedule will most likely be worth just that, a dollar.

Is adding time to the school schedule an effective strategy overall? 

A key lesson from the decades the afterschool community has spent honing quality programs is that students are less engaged when they feel a program is merely an extension of the school day. Conversely, providing students with a stimulating environment that they perceive to be different from the school day is an effective way to support in-school learning and student achievement. (In other words, even though afterschool programs may take place at school, the kids who attend don’t want to feel like they are still in school.) With this in mind, one has to wonder if replacing afterschool programs with more time in the same place with the same teachers will have a positive, measurable impact.

If a trade-off has to be made, is the potential loss of afterschool programs worth what is gained from a longer school schedule? Would the 11th waiver inadvertently undermine the DOE goals?

The three-hour window afterschool programs occupy at the end of the school day provides the time and space to offer valuable experiential and project-based learning activities that will be difficult to replicate within the constraints of even an expanded school day. Afterschool programs have become an integral part of a healthy educational system. As a primary source of physical activity and nutrition education, they are positioned at the forefront of the fight against obesity. The activities they offer reinforce school day lessons by allowing students to apply what they learn to activities that interest them. Afterschool programs offer students opportunities to build knowledge, perfect skills, and develop portfolios can they use when they apply to college -- something that directly supports the DOE mandate to “prepare students for college and career.” Furthermore, in low-income communities afterschool programs are often the only source of enrichment available and the only safe place kids can go to engage in physical activity. Losing programs in these neighborhoods without a substantial replacement would directly contradict the intention to “focus aid on the neediest students.”

To be fair, the Department of Education has issued instructions saying states cannot waive the existing 21st CCLC requirements that prioritize school-community partnerships and that programming that adds time to school schedule cannot be “more of the same.” But, these broad guidelines offer little clarification and raise additional questions. What, for example, does “more of the same” mean?  Is the addition of a new lesson plan enough to qualify as different?

The future remains to be seen, and all of these questions could turn out to be empty worries. But, why should we wait and see when something is this important? This is worth discussing now. If we work together to examine the questions and come up with answers, we can avoid pitfalls and make sure that we end up with an educational system that offers more rather than less benefits to the children it serves.

Cathie Mostovoy is a proven executive leader with more than 25 years’ experience administering youth development and educational programs. Cathie has been a spokesperson to advocate health and education issues for children and youth; she has appeared on national, state and local radio shows, print media and television.  Her expertise is in organizational growth, strategic partnerships, and program and leadership development.

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