Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Afterschool Movement: Looking into the Future

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
As we welcome in the new year, we asked a number of afterschool leaders, "Looking into the future, what do you believe are the most important challenges and opportunities facing the afterschool movement?". Below are some of the responses we heard. 

We will include the responses of other leaders in a second blog post.

Jennifer Davis,
Co-Founder & President
The National Center
on Time & Learning
"The economic downturn continues to impact all youth programming in very negative ways and a more conservative Congress could mean cuts to federal programs that will further hurt children and communities.  On the other hand, more and more federal, state and city leaders now recognize the importance of closing BOTH the achievement and opportunity gaps and after-school, summer and expanded learning programs are key to that so new initiatives are being launched around the country to address these gaps. The recent after-school expansion by Mayor de Blasio in New York is just one example."  

Jennifer Peck,
Executive Director
Partnership for
and Youth
"Even though the context in schools is changing a great deal with the new standards and moving away from a test-focused accountability system, we still have a ways to go to ensure all afterschool and summer programs have the freedom and support from their school partners to provide strong, youth development-based programming that is complementary to classroom learning rather than replicating classroom learning. We now have new California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs and a new accountability structure about to come into place (thanks to recently-approved Senate Bill 1221) that places greater emphasis on quality for all our state and federally funded afterschool and summer programs. 

Our biggest and most daunting challenge in my opinion is on the funding side. Our roughly 4,500 publicly funded expanded learning programs are still operating with $7.50 per child per day, a rate that was set in 2006 and with no cost-of-living increase policy in place. The cost of doing business has clearly risen since then, and on top of that, California has passed a minimum wage increase that will affect the staffing costs of many of our providers across the state. The field will have to get organized to raise awareness about this brewing crisis and assertively pursue solutions." 
Eric Gurna,
President and CEO
"One overarching challenge is the idea that we can easily quantify either the outcomes or the process of our work. If we try too hard to prove our value towards incremental improvements in scores and grades that reflect a narrow definition of success, we diminish the real outcomes of our work, which are often long term and hard to see, but real nonetheless. If we try too hard to fit into a pseudo-scientific view of education and youth development which treats time as an ingredient in a formula, we forget that we can have an impact that is disproportionate to the amount of time kids spend with us. 

One big opportunity right now is the growing recognition that social, emotional and creative vitality should be a part of a real education. Afterschool has always valued these realms, and now has the opportunity to be the tail that wags the dog, showing other educational players how and why to create warm and engaging environments where young people have agency, make real choices, and are heard."
Karen Pittman,
Co-Founder, President, and CEO
Forum for Youth Investment
 "Broader definitions of readiness (beyond academic achievement) are now widely accepted.  Afterschool leaders are no longer alone in their calls for more attention to the development of social, emotional, and civic competencies.  Those who believe that the amount of learning time doesn’t matter are now in the significant majority.  The present, as a consequence, looks pretty rosy.   A rosy future, however, will take more planning and much more discipline.

The afterschool movement has been steadily supplementing value-add arguments focused primarily on 'when and where' with new arguments focused on 'what and how'.  We now have consensus on quality standards and improvement policies.  The future of the movement, from where I sit, hinges on our ability to articulate a practical theory of how young people gain the transferable skills we value and have practical common measures of both the practices that add up to 'quality' and the skills that add up to 'readiness'." (Note: Karen Pittman is working on a paper which will say more about how to do this. We will provide information on how to access this paper in an upcoming blog post - Sam Piha).
"If afterschool and summer programs are to be successful in the long-run, they
need to be known as important places of learning. This means that we need to be more intentional in communicating the learning goals of our activities and having a way to acknowledge the learning by adult staff and youth participants. We believe that the use of digital badges provides a method of acknowledging learning where it happens. 

Sam Piha, Founder and Co-Director
Temescal Associates and
The LIAS Project
It is also important that we think about 'how children learn', not just what children need to learn. This will guide the development of our learning approaches and activities in afterschool and summer programs. We believe that the Learning in Afterschool & Summer learning principles serves to provide a framework for us to think more about 'how children learn'. 

Lastly, we have new evidence and research telling us how important it is that we promote character development, social and emotional skills, and positive growth mindsets. These things are vital to a child's education and later success. They also fall into the sweet spot of afterschool and summer programs but it requires that we are intentional about promoting these things."
Jodi Grant,
Executive Director
Afterschool Alliance
"The most important challenge facing the afterschool field is increasing the availability of quality afterschool programs for children and families.  We know that for every one child currently in a program, there are 2 more children whose parents say they would enroll their children if more programs were available. Research shows that quality afterschool programs keep kids safe, inspire learning and helping working parents keep working and be more productive while at work. Every child and family that wants an afterschool program should have access to a quality program that meets their needs.  We have a long way to go, but we have made significant progress over the last ten years.  With an afterschool field that is much stronger now than ever before and with strong parent support for public funding for afterschool, I am confident that progress will continue."

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