Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lessons Learned: A New Study on California's Proposition 49


By Guest Blogger, Nikki Yamashiro (Ms. Yamashiro first reviewed this paper in the Afterschool Snack blog, sponsored by the Afterschool Alliance)
An insightful study on Proposition 49—California’s landmark piece of legislation that helped to bring school-based afterschool programs to more than 400,000 children across the state—was released at the end of last month. 
Examining California’s Afterschool Movement Post Proposition 49,” a new research paper by Temescal Associates, discusses the implementation challenges and successes of Proposition 49, reviews the current afterschool landscape in California and offers recommendations to afterschool stakeholders as they move forward in an increasingly challenging economic environment. 
In addition to the valuable background on Proposition 49, I found that the study was able to capture the importance of research and evaluation in promoting afterschool.  As a self-proclaimed data junkie, I appreciate the call for more research to better understand the role afterschool programs play in enriching the lives of children and helping working families; balanced with the recognition that to make this possible, clear and apt evaluative criterion must be established and it is essential that appropriate measurement tools and resources are available.
Key takeaways from the report include:
  • The ability to maintain adequate funding is of significant concern among afterschool programs that are currently facing a state budget deficit, increased competition for state funds and reduced funding from foundations and philanthropic organizations.
  • A number of evaluations have found that participation in afterschool programs have a positive impact on academic outcomes for students—such as improving student attendance, graduation rates and test scores—as well as positively influencing student behaviors—such as children in afterschool programs developed important life skills and social skills and were less likely to be suspended than youth who didn’t participate in programs.
  • More resources need to be dedicated to research in the afterschool field and additional conversations need to take place to develop clear and sound criteria by which to measure the effectiveness of afterschool programs.   
  • A few recommendations from afterschool stakeholders to meet the challenges facing the afterschool field include: 
    • Enhancing advocacy around afterschool to draw attention to funding cuts afterschool programs are facing;
    • Growing research efforts to develop a more robust base of knowledge on what works in afterschool;
    • A stronger focus on integrating STEM activities, summer learning opportunities, 21st century learning skills and academic enrichment into afterschool programs; and
    • Dedicating additional resources to provide assistance with program capacity building, program quality assessment tools and program improvement processes.
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Nikki joined the Afterschool Alliance in June 2012, where she works with the Vice President of Policy and Research to coordinate and implement annual research activities, design surveys on pressing issues in the afterschool field and analyze research findings, communicating the need for and great successes of afterschool programs to policy makers, afterschool providers and advocates, and the public. Prior to joining the Afterschool Alliance, Nikki served in a variety of research capacities, including as Policy Advisor at Third Way, where she handled a wide range of domestic policy issues such as juvenile justice, and as legislative assistant to former Rep. Hilda L. Solis, where she handled education and youth issues. She holds a B.A. in Political Science and Sociology from the University of California, San Diego, and a Masters in Public Policy from University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Expanded Learning Requires Expanded Thinking: An Interview with Karen Pittman, Part 2

By Sam Piha 

We have been following the national discussion of "expanded learning". We believe that expanded learning opportunities should be developed by both educators and out-of-school time leaders. Further, we believe that any discussion of expanded learning time has to include clear learning principles that explain how children best learn so we can shape these experiences accordingly. The Learning in Afterschool & Summer project is focused on defining these learning principles.

Karen Pittman
Below is an interview on this topic with Karen Pittman, President and CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment. This interview with the FrameWorks Institute is an excerpt of one that the Forum posted on their website, which can be found here in its entirety. We offer this interview in 2 parts. 


Q: What does a classroom that promotes intrinsic motivation look like? 

A: In an engaging classroom you will see desks pushed together, more team time, students working on group projects where the project on one table may be completely different from the project on the next table. Essentially, this is about effective project-based learning. Young people need opportunities to make meaningful decisions about topics they want to learn about, and then [they need] the supports to do something with that topic.  

Once you show students that they can really learn whatever they want to learn and they experience that sense of mastery, they will learn because they enjoy feeling that sense of mastery. In that kind of environment, young people will trust an adult who says, “You need to learn this because …”  


Q: There seems to be a notion in the education system that fairness is about having clearly defined standards and everyone learning the same thing. Do you see that as a problem?  

A: Standards are good. We use standards in our work for all kinds of things. There is value, however, in broadening what gets included in standards, and providing genuine opportunities for students to get there through different paths. So we need youth to have basic reading and math skills, but we also need them to develop teamwork, communication and problem-solving skills, financial literacy, a solid work ethic. These are competencies that have multiple uses once you develop them and that employers say their incoming workforce often lacks.  

There are examples of schools paying close attention to both content and competence. In the New Tech Network’s high schools, half of a student’s course grade is based on mastery of the content, and the other half is for improvement in different skills like teamwork, communication and initiative. Teachers’ lesson plans address both content and the development of those core competencies.   

Q: What do you think about the separation between the learning that goes on inside vs. outside of school?  

A: When kids are in preschool, we stay true to an expanded definition of learning. Learning in the early years includes all of those things that allow kids to be curious and navigate their environment, and teachers and parents are considered equal partners in learning. When kids become school-aged, the definition gets restrictive. The word “learning” gets captured by school – and then suddenly everything else isn’t thought of as learning. 

When an uncle teaches his nephew how to tune an engine, does that get counted as learning? Maybe. Does it get the same respect as the learning that occurs when a teacher teaches you how to do long division? No. And yet when we do a simple exercise and ask people to reflect on the most powerful learning experiences they had as a young person, their answers are rarely about something they learned in school.  

Q: What kinds of changes do you think need to happen in order to improve the quality of our education system?   

A: Public education is absolutely critical to the American ideal, but there is room for reinvention. Look at other large public systems, like public health. The CDC [Centers for Disease Control] has reinvented itself many times, both in terms of how public health is defined and how the system is designed to address it. We haven’t done the same level of redefinition and reinvention in public education. The system is defined more by buildings and schedules than by student learning needs and desires. 

I would want to step back and think about what really works for kids and families. Research on everything from how kids learn to adolescent sleep patterns demonstrates that the system as currently conceived isn’t working for many kids. But we have difficulty getting outside of the box. I’d like to get to a public education system that has standards, expectations and resources, but a little more flexibility in terms of how and where learning happens. We have the expertise and the technology to make public education a very different system while keeping its core intact.  


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Karen Pittman is a co-founder, President and CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment. She started her career at the Urban Institute, conducting numerous studies on social services for children and families. Karen later moved to the Children’s Defense Fund, launching its adolescent pregnancy prevention initiatives and helping to create its adolescent policy agenda. In 1990 she became a vice president at the Academy for Educational Development, where she founded and directed the Center for Youth Development and Policy Research and its spin-off, the National Training Institute for Community Youth Work.
In 1995 Karen joined the Clinton administration as director of the President's Crime Prevention Council, where she worked with 13 cabinet secretaries to create a coordinated prevention agenda. From there she moved to the executive team of the International Youth Foundation (IYF), charged with helping the organization strengthen its program content and develop an evaluation strategy. In 1998 she and Rick Little, head of the foundation, took a leave of absence to work with ret. Gen. Colin Powell to create America’s Promise. Upon her return, she and Irby launched the Forum, which later became an entity separate from IYF.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Expanded Learning Requires Expanded Thinking: An Interview with Karen Pittman, Part 1

By Sam Piha 

We have been following the national discussion of "expanded learning". We believe that expanded learning opportunities should be developed by both educators and out-of-school time leaders. Further, we believe that any discussion of expanded learning time has to include clear learning principles that explain how children best learn so we can shape these experiences accordingly. The Learning in Afterschool & Summer project is focused on defining these learning principles.

Karen Pittman
Below is an interview on this topic with Karen Pittman, President and CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment.  This interview with the FrameWorks Institute is an excerpt of one that the Forum posted on their website, which can be found here in its entirety. We offer this interview in 2 parts. 

Q: In education circles there is a lot of talk about what kids learn and how learning happens. Is the expanded learning agenda getting the where and when questions on the table?  

A: We haven’t asked the how and why questions about learning enough. So the when and where questions either don’t come up or they don’t stick. The conversation about extended learning is still very school-centric and bound within a fairly restrictive definition of how learning happens and why.  

Learning is an intrinsic thing that humans do. If kids are awake – whether they are two or 12 – they’re learning and developing. Learning is intrinsically satisfying. But that can get lost when it is defined only in terms of academic content. When learning becomes too defined by content, the conversation about expanding when and where kids learn becomes a conversation about where to stick the content, and the intrinsic side can get lost.  

School only fills a small piece of that developmental space, but we spend very little time trying to understand, assess, improve and coordinate the learning that’s going on in the rest of that space. As long as our definition of learning is driven by formal education and things like the common core and standardized tests, we’re unlikely to capitalize on the opportunity presented by the rest of that time and space.  
  
Q: What are the first steps to de-compartmentalizing learning?  

A: One way is to put the learning that happens through high-quality programs and opportunities outside of school on par with K-12 learning. Another way is to bring [into schools] more of what these other practitioners have figured out about effective learning opportunities.  



Reed Larson’s research on intrinsic motivation is relevant here. In one study, middle school kids were given beepers so the research team could track what they were doing and how they were feeling. Each time he [Larson] beeped them, they responded to a couple of quick questions about what they were doing and their levels of concentration and motivation. When kids were in class, they weren’t motivated and they weren’t concentrating. When they were with friends, they were motivated but not concentrating. When they were playing sports, they reported relatively high levels of both motivation and concentration. The highest levels of concentration and motivation were reported when youth were in structured informal learning environments where they had made choices about what they were doing and how to do it.  


This doesn’t mean we shut down schools and send everyone to youth programs, but it should make us think about how to bring higher levels of intrinsic motivation and engagement into schools. Schools are not monolithic. Some students certainly experience more engaging, motivating experiences than others. If you beeped kids who were in a magnet science program, they would probably be engaged. They would likely be in a different type of learning environment than kids in, say, a remedial English course. The most gifted and talented kids get more opportunities for this kind of engagement. Far too many others experience the other end of the spectrum.  

I would flip the conversation about learning. The underlying assumption is that the stuff we want kids to learn is like medicine. If left to their own devices, they wouldn’t learn it.  We need to spend more time understanding how we can support intrinsic motivation.   


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Karen Pittman is a co-founder, President and CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment. She started her career at the Urban Institute, conducting numerous studies on social services for children and families. Karen later moved to the Children’s Defense Fund, launching its adolescent pregnancy prevention initiatives and helping to create its adolescent policy agenda. In 1990 she became a vice president at the Academy for Educational Development, where she founded and directed the Center for Youth Development and Policy Research and its spin-off, the National Training Institute for Community Youth Work.
In 1995 Karen joined the Clinton administration as director of the President's Crime Prevention Council, where she worked with 13 cabinet secretaries to create a coordinated prevention agenda. From there she moved to the executive team of the International Youth Foundation (IYF), charged with helping the organization strengthen its program content and develop an evaluation strategy. In 1998 she and Rick Little, head of the foundation, took a leave of absence to work with ret. Gen. Colin Powell to create America’s Promise. Upon her return, she and Irby launched the Forum, which later became an entity separate from IYF.

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.

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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.