Wednesday, September 5, 2012

THE COMMON CORE STANDARDS: What Do They Mean For Out-of-School Time? (Part 2)

By Sam Piha

The Common Core Standards have 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 offer part 2 of an interview with Elizabeth Devaney on the Common Core Standards and their relevance to the afterschool/OST field.

Q: What do you see as the primary challenges that the Common Core Standards offer the OST field? 

Elizabeth Devaney
A: The primary risk or challenge for the OST field – which pre-dates the emergence of the Common Core – lies in overpromising. Although some OST programs have successfully focused on academic achievement, others are trying to reinvent themselves to connect more to schools.  Some leaders in the OST field argue that programs have strayed too far from the kinds of things they do best: supporting and nurturing the social and emotional development of young people. Many afterschool and OST programs are not equipped to deliver academic content and, in fact, may be straying from their core mission to do so.  OST programs face the challenge of connecting to this monumental policy initiative in education while not compromising their own core principles.

Q: The Learning in Afterschool & Summer principles provide a framework to guide programs in designing activities that promote children’s learning. Based on your experience, can you comment on the relevance and importance of these principles?

A: These learning principles are absolutely right on.  As you state in your position paper, research clearly supports the five principles.  But my experience in a practical setting corroborates that research and makes it more powerful for me. In Providence, RI where I spent 7 years, we saw tremendous gains for middle school students when the learning they engaged in after school was hands-on, connected them to real-world skills, and was relevant to their lives.  We had young people out in their community advocating for recycling because they learned through their summer program to calculate the average rain fall from a storm and about what happens to animals in the ocean when rain water run-off carries garbage to the bay. That kind of learning sticks.  

Q: Do you see these LIAS principles as complimentary or in conflict with the Common Core standards, particularly the habits of mind?

A: I think the LIAS principles are complimentary, if not completely aligned with the Common Core.  They represent the kind of teaching that will be necessary in order for students to achieve the Common Core.  And as I mentioned earlier, the Common Core is designed to be more about mastery or depth of learning rather than breadth.  “Fewer deeper” is a mantra that my co-author Nicole Yohalem and I heard over and over again during our interviews and research in preparation for writing the brief.  So the principle of mastery is absolutely connected.  The main difference is that the LIAS principles really address the how of teaching and the Common Core is more focused on the what. But absolutely, teachers will need to shift their instruction to more closely match the LIAS principles in order for students to develop habits of mind and master the content standards.  

Q: As you look to the decade ahead, what do you see as most promising and threatening to the OST field? 

A: That’s a tough question. No doubt about it, OST organizations face a huge challenge in the coming years to “prove” their connection to supporting academic achievement and student success and define how they want to be a part of the equation.  There is more and more pressure from the local, state and federal level for schools to improve and they are looking to the community for help. Although the greatest challenge, this is also the most promising opportunity for the OST field. We have a chance to become a part of the school reform agenda in a way that we never have before - the trick is going to be remaining true to our own core principles. The Common Core is emerging just as calls for expanded learning opportunities and expanded learning time are growing. The OST field has a window to assert itself as a necessary part of children’s development and education. In doing so, the goal need not be to replicate the core work of schools but rather to complement, support and expand it.

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. 

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