Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Welcome to Jeff Davis, New Executive Director of the California AfterSchool Network!

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
We are very happy to congratulate Jeff Davis as the new Executive Director of the California AfterSchool Network (CAN). In our work with Jeff, he has shown himself to be a tireless collaborator who exhibits the openness, transparency, and integrity that the CAN Executive Director must exhibit. He has thorough knowledge of the field, is a strong advocate for the needs of practitioners, and is unafraid to leverage the knowledge of other field leaders. He brings a combination of both passion and attention to detail. 

The announcement by the Network says it best:

Jeff Davis,
Executive Director, CAN
“Jeff has worked with CAN since its inception in 2006, first as Program Coordinator, then as Program Director and most recently as Interim Executive Director. 

As a seasoned expanded learning stakeholder and the author of the State of the State of Expanded Learning in California, Jeff brings a great understanding for the expanded learning landscape including important initiatives and key partners. Jeff’s accomplishments in the field have been well received through his work with STEM and The Power of Discovery, CDE’s statewide Strategic Implementation Teams, the development of Quality Standards for Expanded Learning in California, as well as supporting a number of CAN’s field committees. Jeff’s most recent work has centered around supporting CAN’s transition of fiscal sponsors and procuring of funds to support CAN’s work.

We are fortunate to have such a well-respected, passionate and committed individual in Jeff Davis as CAN’s newest Executive Director. CAN’s Leadership Team is excited to welcome Jeff aboard as Executive Director and looking forward to continuing CAN’s impactful work in the Expanded Learning field.”




Monday, October 19, 2015

Work-Based Learning Continuum: Can You Locate Your Program?


By Sam Piha


Sam Piha
We know that, as adults, it is our job to help prepare young people for success in adulthood. This is becoming obvious to educators and those who provide expanded learning programs for youth as we see an increase in opportunities to explore careers and gather work-based skills. 

The Linked Learning Alliance has created a continuum of work-based learning activities. This continuum offers educators and youth program leaders  shared language and activity definitions as a means to locate oneself on this developmental continuum. You can review a paper on this continuum authored by the Linked Learning Alliance here. (The Linked Learning Alliance is a statewide coalition of education, industry, and community organizations dedicated to improving California’s high schools and preparing students for success in college, career, and life.)


Above: Alex Taghavian
Below: Regie Stites
Alex Taghavian, Vice President of the Linked Learning Alliance, will speak at our upcoming How Kids Learn V conference. The focus of this conference is Preparing Youth for Work and Career Success. Alex will share the work-based learning continuum and researcher, Regie Stites from Center for Education Policy at SRI International, will focus on some of the challenges and opportunities for implementation of work-based learning systems based on his findings from the Linked Learning District Initiative evaluation. He will also highlight some of the evidence he has for positive outcomes from work-based learning.

Below we asked Hilary McLean, Executive Vice President of the Linked Learning Alliance, more about the Linked Learning work-based continuum. 

Q: Can you briefly say how and why this continuum was developed? 


Hilary McLean,
Executive Vice President
Linked Learning
Alliance
A: The Linked Learning Work-Based Learning continuum was developed by leaders in the Linked Learning field who have expertise in education and workforce development. It was designed to be a resource to help build understanding about the range of work-based learning opportunities that a student could and should experience as they move through their Linked Learning experience. With that greater understanding, we hoped that this resource would help schools and employer partners design coherent sequenced opportunities for students to interact with employers, apply what they are learning in the classroom in real-world contexts, and gain professional skills that are needed in college and in the workforce. 

Q: This continuum uses the term “work-based”. People often think about "work-based” learning activities that only happen within a work setting and with older youth and young adults. Can you comment on this perception?  

A: Work-based learning can actually start much earlier, by introducing children in primary grades or even preschool to careers and professionals in a range of occupations.  With Linked Learning, the career awareness phase of the continuum typically starts in the students’ freshman year of high school. Some districts that have embraced Linked Learning as a system-wide school improvement strategy start this phase in middle school. 


Q: Who is the intended audience for this continuum and how do you hope it will be used?  

A: We hope that the Linked Learning Work-Based Learning Continuum is used by Linked Learning educators, workforce development boards, intermediaries such as Chambers of Commerce or other organizations that are serving as a connection point between schools and the employer community, coordinators for mayors’ summer jobs initiatives, and anyone who is interested in economic development and improving the workforce pipeline.

Q: Do you believe that it is useful and relevant for youth programs that happen in the out-of-school hours? 

A: Yes we think that this is a huge area of opportunity that has not yet been fully tapped. 

Q: What benefits do you believe this continuum provides to program
Photo Credit: Techbridge Girls
designers and youth workers?  


A: The Linked Learning Work-Based Learning Continuum can provide guidance on how to sequence opportunities for youth so that they are prepared for each step in the process, and can succeed in both learning in and contributing to real-world professional workplaces. 


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Friday, October 16, 2015

LIAS Effectiveness Study

By Sam Piha


Sam Piha
The Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) project was launched in 2010. In the summer of 2015, the LIAS staff conducted a LIAS Effectiveness Study to gauge our impact on the field and how best to further the project goals. The objectives of this LIAS Effectiveness Study were to:
  • Learn how effective the LIAS campaign was in reaching and impacting expanded learning stakeholders and program leaders;
  • Learn how effective the individual LIAS strategies were;
  • Improve the LIAS campaign going forward; and
  • Share with the larger field any learnings that may be helpful to future efforts to improve expanded learning program quality.

We collected 91 surveys completed by Regional Leads, those who oversee or work directly with youth, or provide technical assistance. In terms of geography, most of the respondents are located in Regions 3, 4, 9, and 11. These four regions contain 57% of the total California ASES and 21st CCLC programs. (Source: California Afterschool Network). We also conducted follow up interviews with 20 afterschool leaders across the state. 

Below is a summary of findings from our study. To view the study Executive Summary, click here. To view the full report, click here

LIAS effectiveness
  • The LIAS project has successfully raised awareness of the LIAS principles across the state.
  • On average, 74% of respondents reported their contact with LIAS materials. Of those, 67% on average, rated their experience as a 4 or 5 on a 1-5 scale of effectiveness, with 1 being the lowest.
  • On average, only 30% of respondents reported an involvement with LIAS support activities. Of those, on average, 79% rated their experience as a 4 or 5 on a 1-5 scale of effectiveness, with 1 being the lowest.
  • Of those surveyed, over 84% reported that the LIAS materials and supports impacted their programs. They reported that the LIAS project either changed the way they talk about their programs (49%) or effected their program design (35%).


LIAS strengths: Respondents reported that the language of the LIAS learning principles are clear and understandable (nearly 84%) and the LIAS learning principles can easily be applied to program design and improvement (nearly 69%). 

LIAS weaknesses: A fair number of respondents (22%) thought that the LIAS project can do more outreach to educate practitioners about the LIAS learning principles. Nearly 46% of respondents replied, “No comment”. 

Challenges and barriers to program improvement: Respondents named staff turnover (92%), insufficient funding (86%), and insufficient time (80%) as the largest barrier or challenge. 

Takeaways
Objective 1: Learn how effective the LIAS campaign was in reaching and impacting expanded learning stakeholders and program leaders
  • LIAS outreach – The LIAS project has been very successful in spreading the word on the LIAS principles. The newly designed website and LIAS blog have been well received.  
  • LIAS impact – The LIAS project reportedly has impacted many by changing the way they talk with others about their program activities and/or changing actual day-to-day practice. Program leaders want more guidance on how to apply LIAS and character building strategies into practice. 
Objective 2: Learn how effective the individual LIAS strategies were
  • LIAS materials – The LIAS postcard has been widely distributed across the state and well received by program leaders. However, some of the LIAS materials such as the webinar, are not reaching a large audience. 
  • LIAS training opportunities – The LIAS orientations and introductory trainings are an effective educational outreach strategy. However, they do not go far enough in changing practice at the program level. The LIAS learning communities have been well received and judged as effective ways to impact program quality. However, they are not widely available due to issues of cost, commitment, and geography. 
Objective 3: Improve the LIAS campaign going forward
  • Diversify audience – It would be useful if the LIAS project could reach out to diverse audiences that impact young people’s learning. These additional audiences include youth program providers outside of the “afterschool circle”, principals and educational administrators, instructors in higher education, museums, libraries, and Parks & Recreation departments. 
  • Access to online tools – Because of issues of cost and distance, and because young workers grew up in the digital age, we have been advised to ensure that materials and tools include short videos of actual program practice, are accessible via the Internet, be multimedia, and viewable on smartphones and tablets. 
  • Integrate new concepts - materials should include the new state Quality Standards. They should also integrate 21st century learning skills, social emotional learning, building character skills, non-cognitive skills, growth mindsets, and foundations for young adult success. There is also the demand that programs respond to the new state Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs and the Common Core State Standards. While it is true that some of these are overlapping, they still present an overwhelming set of “lists”. The LIAS project has been advised to create an approach that integrate these “lists” and the Quality Standards.
Objective 4: Learnings that may be helpful to future efforts to improve expanded learning program quality
  • Cost as a barrier - Due to rising labor costs and stagnant grant awards, programs have cut the amount of resources for professional development and program tools. For all of us that work to improve program quality, we have been advised to consider the issue of cost – program materials and training - and even offer stipends to training participants in exchange for a commitment to attendance and program improvement efforts. 
  • Other barriers to program improvement – Any effort to improve program quality requires educational outreach that is ongoing due to staff turnover. In addition to continuing these efforts, we have been encouraged to target program leaders, who have longer tenures than frontline staff.  
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We invite you to join us at the How Kids Learn V conference: Preparing Youth for Work and Career Success. To see more information and register, click here




Friday, October 9, 2015

Employability Skills Framework

By Sam Piha


Sam Piha
There are a growing number of tools to guide the design and improvement of youth programs. These come in the form of frameworks, program quality measurement tools, self-assessment or reflection surveys. Some are general in nature and some are very content-specific.

If program leaders try to use all of these tools, it can be a bit overwhelming and probably not useful. It is important that programs begin by taking a look inside and answering the question, “What are we about?” and “What needs do youth have and which do we think we should focus on through our program offerings?”. Then, program leaders can select the most appropriate framework, quality assessment tool, or self-reflection survey. 

By “framework”, we are referring to a conceptual structure intended to serve as a support or guide for the design and implementation of a youth program. There are frameworks for youth development, for young adult success, employability skills, character building, social emotional learning, and more. 

RTI International (RTI), one of the world’s leading independent, nonprofit research and development organization, developed an Employability Skills Framework for the U.S. Department of Education. This framework names the skills that employers are looking for and divides this into three categories, each with a subset of skills. They are: 

Effective Relationships

  • Interpersonal Skills (understands teamwork and works with others, responds to customer needs, exercises leadership, negotiates to resolve conflicts, respects individual differences)
  • Personal Qualities (demonstrates responsibility and self discipline, adapts and shows flexibility, works independently, demonstrates a willingness to learn, demonstrates integrity and professionalism, takes initiative, displays positive attitude and sense of self-worth, takes responsibility for professional growth)

Workplace Skills

  • Technology Use (understands and uses technology)
  • Systems Thinking (understands and uses systems, monitors and improves systems)
  • Communication Skills (communicates verbally, listens actively, comprehends written material, conveys information in writing, observes carefully)
  • Information Use (locates, organizes, uses, analyzes, and communicates information)
  • Resource Management (Manages time, money, materials, and personnel)

Applied Knowledge

  • Critical Thinking Skills (thinks critically, thinks creatively, makes sound decisions, solves problems, reasons, and plans and organizes)
  • Applied Academic Skills (uses reading and writing skills, uses mathematical strategies and procedures, uses scientific principles and procedures)

Employability Skills Framework
This framework serves as a valuable tool for programs that wish to prepare young people for success in work and career. When examining this framework, one can appreciate how it overlaps with 21st century learning skills and character building/social emotional skills, and broader frameworks for youth development.

Laura Rasmussen Foster, Program Director of Adult Education Studies at RTI International, led the development of this framework. She will speak about it at our upcoming How Kids Learn V Conference in Berkeley. Below, she answers a few questions we had about the framework.  



Q: Can you briefly say how and why this framework was developed? 

A: It was developed by RTI International for the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education. 

The goal in creating the framework was to look across existing sets of employability skill standards and assessments and identify areas of overlap that would begin to unify this existing work in a common framework. We found right away that there are so many different terms used to describe employability skills and wanted to provide a common language (based on research) for both education and business to use. 

Our work was guided by a technical work group, which included representation from career technical education, adult education, and workforce training organizations. Stakeholder groups reviewed the framework and other key products as they were developed to ensure their applicability to the broad education and workforce fields. 

Q: Who was the intended audience and how do you hope this framework will be used? 

Laura Rasmussen Foster
A: The audience (educators, policy makers, and employers) is intentionally broad, as we recognize the importance of employability skills to all individuals and the need to integrate these skills into education and training programs across grade levels and content areas. Hopefully the framework can be used by these audiences in different ways to meet their specific needs. For example, teachers can review the framework skills, identify those that they already may be teaching and develop lessons for incorporating other skills. Employers can use it as a communication tool for explaining their skill needs to their education partners. Other tips for using the framework are described on audience-specific pages (see http://cte.ed.gov/employabilityskills/index.php/audience/educators, for the educators page, for example).  

Q: Do you believe that it is useful and relevant for youth programs that happen in the out-of-school hours?

A: Yes, definitely. Employability skills are an essential component of college and career readiness, no matter where that preparation takes place. It is not just the responsibility of one career and technical education program or a single teacher to teach all of the framework skills. Instead, they can and should be integrated across educational levels and programs and reinforced in various contexts. 

Q: This framework names several concepts we see in frameworks for character building, youth development, and social emotional learning. What are your thoughts on the overlap? 

A: I’m not surprised about the overlap, as the framework builds on existing sets of skills, standards, and assessments – it was not intended as a new, separate set of skills. Hopefully the overlap helps you understand how youth programs are already addressing these skills and identify any gaps for further work!