Afterschool programs are a good investment
Shifting our focus from expansion
to quality assurance
Afterschool programs provide children with the expanded opportunities to learn and grow that they need to be successful. Effective programs ground their work in childhood development principles and have strong partnerships in place with the traditional school day.
Afterschool programs generate between $5 and $7 in public savings for every dollar invested.
Expanding Access in California
California has a rich history of offering before-school, afterschool and summer opportunities for children and youth. But, through the passage and implementation of Proposition 49, the state has dramatically expanded these programs in the last few years and now boasts the nation’s largest publicly-funded afterschool infrastructure. Afterschool programs in California currently serve 500,000 children and youth in every corner of the state, keeping them safe, providing academic support and offering enrichment opportunities that may not be available during the traditional school day.
During this recent period of large-scale expansion, Children Now and our many partners have focused on efforts that will ensure a strong initial foundation for the growing afterschool infrastructure; more specifically:
- Streamlining state policies to ensure Prop 49 funds are most efficiently, effectively and equitably distributed;
- Identifying schools with the greatest opportunity to benefit from providing expanded afterschool programs and encouraging them to do so; and
- Supporting the implementation and expansion of workforce development strategies that will encourage the recruitment and retention of effective afterschool staff.
Improving Program Quality
Now that new programs funded by Prop 49 have moved past the start-up phase of work—planning, implementing and initially operating services—statewide policy efforts should shift to a focus on quality. Children Now believes that all California children should have access to high-quality, student-centered afterschool and summer programs that support their academic achievement and life skills development (e.g., decision-making and leadership), as well as their overall health and well-being. To achieve this goal, research points to a number of systemic initiatives that need to be promoted and implemented, including:
- Providing access to useful student information in order to inform policy and support the continuous improvement of practice;
- Implementing recruitment and retention strategies to ensure children have access to highly effective afterschool workers; and
- Ensuring stronger alignment between afterschool programs and the traditional school day in ways that build on the youth development strengths of high-quality afterschool programs.
Figure: Supports Needed to Improve Afterschool Program Quality
(Click to enlarge image)
Data to Inform Policy & Practice
For over a decade, California has been working toward implementing a comprehensive student information system that will improve practices and inform policies. This work has finally reached a tipping point. By aligning focused advocacy with new federal resources available for improving state-level student data, a high-quality student data system is now within California’s reach. It is important for policy and local practice that afterschool data be included in California’s new student information system.
Recruiting/Retaining Skilled & Knowledgeable Staff
Children Now is a partner and co-facilitator of the California Workforce Innovation Network (CalWIN). CalWIN is a collaborative of organizations focused on recruiting, developing and supporting afterschool workers in California. Members include Bay Area Partnership, CalSAC, Career Ladders Project, Central Valley Afterschool Foundation, Children Now, Encore Afterschool, FowlerHoffman, Growth Sector, Next Generation Youth Work Coalition and South Bay Center for Community Development. This collaborative has produced several tangible outcomes, including:
- Providing a forum for pilot afterschool workforce development programs to share information about promising trends and effective practices;
- Creating an organized infrastructure to develop and disseminate information about emerging models and funding opportunities to the field. This includes numerous conference presentations, two recent publications , and a regional CalWIN event focused on the “Urban Teacher Fellowship” and “Linking Afterschool” in the Fall of 2009; and
- Ensuring there is a constant focus among advocates and pilot program providers on identifying federal, state and local funding, partnership and policy opportunities to sustain and expand effective workforce models.
In 2010, we will build on these successes by pursuing two key goals along with our partners.
The first goal is new funding and partnership opportunities supporting the expansion of the “Linking Afterschool” and “Urban Teacher Fellowship” models. There are a variety of federal initiatives that could provide funding for expansion, including Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, the Community College Initiative, Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) funding and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In addition, there are local partnerships that can be encouraged and strengthened among many institutions, including workforce investment boards, school districts, community colleges, regional leads, afterschool providers, California State Universities, cities, counties and community based organizations.
Our second goal is to continue to identify and disseminate promising recruitment and retention practices and funding opportunities.
Strong Partnerships with the Traditional School Day
The historic divide between the K-12 and afterschool fields is incongruous with the overall effort to improve children’s achievement; research and “on-the-ground” practice has demonstrated that what children need to succeed is more engaging, rigorous and supportive learning environments. High-quality afterschool programs and K-12 schooling are both required—and should work in concert—to improve children’s outcomes. Children Now is pursuing several state and federal opportunities to provide resources and promote policy to strengthen alignment and partnership between the afterschool programs and K-12 education for the benefit of children.
Expanding Summer Enrichment Programs
The summer months are a prime time to provide children with engaging enrichment and learning programs. Research suggests that as much as two-thirds of the achievement gap in reading is due to the lack of learning opportunities available to low-income children during the summer months. Unfortunately, California’s summer programs took a big hit in 2009 as numerous school districts cut them due to the budget crises. But there’s an opportunity on the horizon. New federal funding could make it possible for California to expand and improve its afterschool infrastructure by implementing innovative partnerships between school districts and afterschool providers in order to offer new summer enrichment programs for children.