Monday, February 23, 2015

Looking into the Future: Words of Important Afterschool and Education Leaders

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha

To welcome in the new year, we posted a blog asking 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 is part 2, where we share responses of other afterschool leaders. 

Lucy Friedman,
The After School Corporation
"The challenge facing the after-school movement is that too many educators, funders and policy makers want to judge its quality by standardized test scores alone. And in the desire to close the achievement gap, there's too much emphasis on test prep and not enough focus on the life-enriching activities that foster curiosity, instill confidence, and ultimately lead to a passion for learning. Research, and anyone who’s ever watched a kid grow up, tells us that these characteristics are critically important for a successful adulthood." 

Pedro Noguera
Professor of Education
New York University
"The biggest challenge facing the afterschool movement involve equity; equity in access, equity in the quality of what is provided to children, equity in the skills and training of those who provide services to children.  Lack of equity is ultimately the critical factor driving disparities in learning outcomes (i.e. the so-called achievement gap), and it is manifest in the afterschool sector as well.  Access to high quality afterschool programs could also play a decisive role in reducing educational disparities but this will only occur if we remain vigilant in advocating for equity in the sector.  Clearly, it's not good enough for afterschool educators to do good work.  We must be sure that access to good, stimulating learning experiences are available to all children, regardless of where they live, what language they speak, who their parents are, or how much money they earn. This is really the civil rights issue of the 21st century.  The question we must ask ourselves is: how can each of us play a role in advancing equity in the communities where we work and live?"

Jane Quinn,
Vice President and Director of
National Center for Community Schools
Children's Aid Society
“Opportunities: Build on the emerging positive results from a variety of approaches, models and programs; capitalize on young people’s interests in high quality, active learning experiences; and help principals, teachers and other educators understand that after-school staff can be allies in helping young people rise to the occasion presented by the Common Core State Standards.

Challenges: Competition for funding; over-emphasis on standardized testing as the only measure of success; policy-makers searching for the quick fix rather than the real deal; and growing inequality as represented in nearly every phase of American life.”

Chris Smith
President & ED
Boston After School
and Beyond
"The greatest opportunity seems to be the broader recognition of the developmental and environmental factors that contribute to learning.  This should create a big opening for those in the after-school movement that are ready to put their approaches to the test in measurable ways.  In Boston, we are measuring critical aspects of the learning environment (aka, program quality) and transferable skills such as self-management, critical thinking, collaboration, and perseverance, which we call “power skills.”  When we begin to use the same vocabulary, we will see that the skills we focus on after school and during the summer are the very same ones that that young people need to succeed in college and the ones that employers value.

The major challenge we face is the field’s fragmented nature.  However, this challenge can become an opportunity when you look see fragmentation as diversity of approach and consider the vastly different learning needs of young people.  For this to happen, we need to unify ourselves in ways that allow policy-makers, school leaders, and funders to pursue a coherent and scalable solution.  In Boston, we do this through common standards and measurement.  In a sense, we are creating the equivalent of a box score for baseball or an exchange for the stock market.  This shared measurement platform allows programs to shine.  More than 50 organizations, serving thousands of young people, have stepped up to meet this challenge by collecting and sharing data so that we can identify programs’ strengths and address challenges, both as individual programs and as a unified network of providers."

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